Analysts predicted Bounnhang would be awarded the top spot, and say he is unlikely to change the government’s repressive status quo.
“He is a party loyalist, old-time revolutionary and wily politician, who is not going to change course – or change anything, for that matter,” said Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos historian and retired Australian professor.
Laos’ political leaders have tightly controlled the rural Southeast Asian nation since 1975, when communist revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy several decades after the end of French colonial rule.
This week nearly 700 party members joined the five-yearly congress in the capital Vientiane to approve central committee and 11-person politburo.
Though for many years neighbouring Vietnam was the most powerful foreign player in Laos, China has poured money into the country recently, becoming its largest foreign investor in 2014.Yet Stuart-Fox said the new politburo was unlikely to lean too heavily towards either communist neighbour.
“Laos will continue to balance its relations with China and Vietnam, and try to avoid taking sides,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Washington is also increasingly courting the isolated state as part of President Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot” to Asia.
Obama will be the first US president to visit Laos when he attends an ASEAN summit in the capital this summer. US Secretary of State John Kerry is also scheduled to stop in Vientiane to meet with the country’s leaders next week.
Kerry will “affirm support for Laos as this year’s ASEAN chair, and express continued US interest in a close bilateral relationship,” the US State Department said.