Laotian politician, president 1975–86. After an abortive revolt against French rule in 1945, he led the guerrilla organization Pathet Lao (Land of the Lao), and in 1975 became the first president of the Republic of Laos.
Early life Souphanouvong was born in Louangphrabang, the youngest of the 22 sons of Prince Boun Khong, the uparat (or regent) in the royal house. He became attracted to radical politics while studying civil engineering in Paris. On his return to Laos in 1938, while working as a civil engineer for the French colonial authorities, he opposed the re-establishment of French control after the close of World War II.
Nationalist He joined the Lao Issara (Free Laos) nationalist movement in 1946 and spent the period to 1949 in exile in Thailand. When moderate elements within the Lao Issara, including his half-brother Prince Souvanna Phouma, made a semiautonomy agreement with France in 1949, Souphanouvong joined the Vietminh, or Communist Party of Indochina, which was dominated by Vietnamese communists. The Pathet Lao was formed by Souphanouvong in 1950 as a Laotian breakaway.
Assisted by North Vietnam, the Pathet Lao spent much of the next 15 years waging a guerrilla war, first against the French (to 1954) and then, after independence, against the rightist pro-Western regime, which was headed from 1958 by Souvanna Phouma. By contrast with his half-brother, Souphanouvong was dubbed the ‘Red Prince’.
President In 1975 Souphanouvong, who had briefly held positions in coalition governments formed in 1957–58, 1962, and 1973, became the first president of the communist Lao People's Democratic Republic. This was largely a ceremonial position and the real controlling force in the new state was Kaysone Phomvihane, leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Souphanouvong stepped down in 1986 as head of state, but remained a member of the LPRP's ruling politburo until 1991.