The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has chosen to stay the course by selecting
a Marxist ideologue as its new general secretary. Nguyen Phu Trong, a 67-year
old former editor-in-chief of the Communist Review and current chairman of the
communist-controlled National Assembly, was a compromise choice of the
just-concluded 11th National Congress.
According to local observers, the two most powerful figures entering the
conclave were Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and CPV standing secretary Truong
Tan Sang. Dung has controlled
the levers of government for the past five years and his policy of favoring
large state-owned enterprises, which were placed under the remit of the prime
minister's office, gave him unprecedented control over the economy.
But he was also heavily criticized for backing a massive bauxite mining scheme
in the Central Highlands region and mishandling Vinashin, the bankrupt
state-owned shipping company with debts that reached 5% of gross domestic
product (GDP). Sang has been in charge of the CPV on a day-to-day basis in a
role akin to chief operating officer. He coordinated the party's personnel,
ideological and other key functions. Some Vietnam watchers believe Sang quietly
nurtured the public criticisms against Dung.
Both men are in their early 60s and have been rivals since they were elevated
to the CPV's politburo in 1996. According to a classified US diplomatic cable
obtained by WikiLeaks: "Dung and Sang have amassed unparalleled influence in
Vietnam's Party-state apparatus; they are arguably the two most powerful
political figures in the country today. The problem is that, though rivals,
Dung and Sang are also too alike for comfort - both are southerners."
Their competition generated intense jockeying in the days leading up to the
congress. Dung's allies in state media tried to burnish his image by publishing
stories referring to him as "the greatest leader in Asia" according to "the
German media". Vietnamese bloggers looked into these claims and found that the
single source of all the stories was one little known German website,
www.firmenpresse.de, whose owner-operator was apparently seeking business
contracts in Vietnam and advertises itself as a "full-service PR portal".
To be sure, new CPV general secretary Trong does have a support base. Prior to
chairing the National Assembly, he was party boss of Hanoi and an enforcer of
Marxist thought. According to the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily with
diplomatic contacts, Trong also has close ties to China. An early indicator of
this pivotal relationship will be how soon Trong travels to Beijing and how he
handles the sensitive topic of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
At 67 years old, Trong received a waiver to serve past the mandatory retirement
age and thus he will most likely not hold the post for more than one five-year
term. This could potentially set up another transition battle in a short while.
Who's in, who's out
One official who lost his post is foreign minister Pham Gia Khiem. He got
ejected from both the new 175-member central committee and 14-member politburo.
The latter body, which is the supreme decision-making organ of the CPV,
currently has no representation from the Foreign Ministry.
This omission signifies the lack of clout of Vietnam's diplomats in domestic
power politics following a year in which Vietnam chaired the 10-member
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and hosted major global and
regional summits. As of now, just three central committee members hail from the
The security forces, on the other hand, increased their representation,
demonstrating that security is still a top policy concern. Police and military
generals snagged nine and 19 seats respectively on the Central Committee.
Police representation on the politburo increased from one to two members, while
the armed forces retained the politburo seat held by defense minister Phung
In a sign that the CPV is acquiring vestiges of a hereditary political system,
the sons of current Prime Minister Dung and outgoing party general secretary
Nong Duc Manh were appointed to the central committee. They join the ranks of
other communist progeny holding senior posts.
In sum, the personnel choices indicate a continuation of the current policies
and many of their inherent contradictions. For the economy, this means that
private enterprise will continue to coexist uneasily with inefficient
state-owned firms in an overall climate of policy uncertainty.
Investors hoping for a more transparent, level-playing field will be
disappointed by the ascension of general secretary Trong, who advocated at the
congress for "public ownership of the means of production". In his acceptance
speech, Trong declared his continuing commitment to "advance Vietnam toward
In terms of external relations, the new communist leadership will still need to
balance against China. This means seeking closer military relations with the
United States, ASEAN and other regional powers for the sake of Vietnam's
At the same time, party stakeholders will be driven by parochial interests -
such as maintaining internal security, proving ideological consistency, and
undertaking socialist-style development schemes - that will motivate a closer
tilt toward communist-run Beijing for the Hanoi regime's longevity and
Later this year, the National Assembly will convene to rubberstamp the CPV's
choices for president and prime minister, widely expected to be Truong Tan Sang
and Nguyen Tan Dung. Party general secretary Trong will then lead a troika in
which each of his nominally junior colleagues both believe that they instead
should be CPV chief and thus the jostling for position likely did not end with
the conclusion of the party congress.
The Hanoist writes on Vietnam's politics and people.