Vietnam Appears to Have Retained Party Boss Trong for a Year or More

vietnam-trong-01142016.jpg Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong delivers speech to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hanoi, Nov. 6, 2015.

The ruling Vietnamese Communist Party has reached “overwhelming consensus” on candidates for the top leadership posts in the authoritarian nation, state media announced, wrapping up what analysts said were tense negotiations inside the secretive party.

The Vietnam News Agency did not report any names as it quoted party chief Nguyen Phu Trong as saying the Party Central Committee had “discussed and reviewed a report on personnel preparation at the meeting in a democratic and responsible manner.”

But sources familiar with the closed-door ballot at the three-day plenary meeting of the 175-member central committee told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the outcome defied widely held predictions that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung would be promoted to the top job of party general secretary. Dung was instead sidelined, they said.

Vietnam’s top four political posts – party general secretary, prime minister, state president, and national assembly president -- were up for grabs at this week’s meeting. The party holds its five-yearly National Party Congress from Jan. 20-28, when delegates will approve the slate of candidates selected this week.

Sources in Hanoi told RFA the politburo had decided that Trong would stay on as general secretary for half of a five-year term, while General Tran Dai Quang, now national police chief, would become state president. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc would be promoted to prime minister, they said.

Age limit exceptions made

This new line-up, which also elevates National Assembly Vice-Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan to chairwoman, could not be independently confirmed.

Dung, 66, has served two terms as prime minister and is seen by many analysts as more cosmopolitan and dynamic than Trong, 71.  Both men are over the official retirement age of 65, but Vietnam has made exceptions to that rule in the past for the top leader.

“To his supporters, he is Vietnam’s most eloquent statesman, a reform champion, and a patriot keen to end Hanoi’s deference to Beijing,” Vietnam expert Jonathan D. London of the City University of Hong Kong wrote in The Diplomat on-line journal.

“Critics allege the prime minister is most committed to expanding the wealth and influence of his family and supporters and well-placed foreign investors, even from China,” he added.

Australia-based analyst Carlyle Thayer said he had heard that Trong would stay on as party chief for a year.

“There must be deadlock,” he told RFA.

“A coalition has emerged around the general secretary and state president to block Nguyen Tan Dung,” said Thayer, director of the Thayer Consultancy. He said he heard that Dung's detractors raised issues of his family wealth and other potential weak points.

“Nguyen Tan Dung, in a very open and transparent contest, would be the next party secretary general… but Vietnam is not open and transparent about this,” he added.

Loyal to Marx and Lenin?

Vietnam faces multiple economic and political challenges, including industrial reforms to raise the quality of its exports and intensifying friction with big neighbor China over their long-running dispute over islands in the South China Sea.

Hanoi has responded to what it sees as Chinese aggression by developing closer security ties with its former battlefield foe, the United States. Hanoi and Washington are also working on passing a sweeping trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Vietnam hopes will help cut its huge trade deficit with China.

Zachary Abuza, of the U.S. National War College in Washington told RFA the retention of Trong was “not good.”

But Abuza told RFA that he did not expect “major changes no matter what happens with the leadership selection, simply because the Vietnamese leadership tends to be quite cautious and they don't like radical changes.”

Nguyen Quang A, former director of Vietnam’s first independent think tank, said he was aware of talk that Trong would stay on but could not confirm it.

“I think if it is true, then there will be no change, because they are the same people, the same party chief, who is very loyal to Marxism-Leninism,” he told RFA.

“(Trong) said that his party’s charter is higher than the constitution, (so) then I think we have no hope.”

Reported by Khanh Nguyen and Viet Ha for RFA’s Vietnam Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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