Vietnam Stays The Course In 2016

Vietnam Stays The Course In 2016 Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (R) retakes his seat after casting his ballot as Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (L) sits on the podium during the election of the new Central Committee in Hanoi, Jan. 26, 2016.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party re-elected party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to a second term as general secretary, likely putting an end to any attempt to reform the one-party state’s human rights abuses, observers tell the RFA’s Vietnamese service.

Vietnam’s 12th party congress named Trong to its 19-member Politburo -- the all-powerful body that handles the day-to-day affairs of the government and the party. He was then immediately chosen as the general-secretary and the country’s de-facto leader. The announcement was made on the official Vietnam News Agency's website.

By selecting Trong and a slate of hard-liners, the ruling Politburo is signaling an unwillingness for the Communist Party to make any immediate shift toward a more representative and less repressive government, Jennifer Dunham, research director at the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service .

“The election maintains the same level of repression of the media, of civil society activism and restrictions on the Internet,” she said. “With the appointment of the new secretary general, any kind of hoped-for reform probably won’t happen because he’s one of the old guard and will likely continue the policies of his predecessors.”

Catholic priest Phan Van Loi described the elections as a sham saying the moves are “only for show.”

“We see that as an abuse of power -- a violation of the people’s rights because those three posts are for governing the country,” he told RFA. “They have to reflect the wish of all people. That is why civil society groups have to protest the party in the selections of the three most important posts, but of course the communist government still continues their repression.”

A priest in the diocese of Hue in central Vietnam, Van Loi said the entire slate is problematic from a human rights perspective.

Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang is expected to become Vietnam’s new president. The general secretary, prime minister, president, and the chair of National Assembly, are the four key members in the collective leadership represented by the Politburo, while the 180-member Central Committee, which handles policy.

“We are concerned to hear that Tran Dai Quang would become the president,” he told RFA. “When he was the police minister, he was very adamant in his crackdowns. Now that he is the president, he will have more power to do more.”

The China Card

While little broad change is expected, Trong will still have his work cut out for him as he attempts to steer the country through a rocky time with an ascendant China on one hand and a desire for economic reform on the other.

The 71-year-old Trong is seen as being receptive to Beijing’s economic and political overtures even as the two countries are at odds over Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

China has built a series of islands in the seaway with airstrips that can handle military aircraft and has moved an oil platform into the area. Both China and Vietnam have conflicting claims in the area that is transited by one-third of the world’s sea traffic and is rich in mineral wealth.

Even though Trong has closer ties to China, he is unlikely to capitulate to Beijing’s wishes. Trong will want to avoid going soft on China as most Vietnamese object to China’s island-building projects in disputed waters, and they resent China’s economic influence as they feel it smacks of Chinese imperial conquests.

Political machinations in the spotlight

The vote also puts Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s political career on hold as Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is now expected to become the prime minister.

Trong’s selection marks the end of a round of unprecedented political maneuvering as Dung was attempting to hold onto his spot. Dung’s tenure was marked with unprecedented economic reforms as he looked to the West and particularly the United States for foreign that helped triple per capita GDP in 10 years. Dung was also viewed as standing up to China over the territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Dung won praise for his economic plan and his stance toward China, but he was also accused of ignoring government corruption by allowing unhealthy doses of patronage and maintaining a lack of transparency.

While Dung may be eclipsed, it’s unlikely his policies will wane entirely as the economic reforms he started have the backing of the party elites of which Trong is one. Dung is also seen as brokering a compromise that would see Trong step aside before the end of his full five-year term.

Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha.  Written in English by Brooks Boliek.


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