Vietnam communists meet in secrecy to pick country's new leader

HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam's ruling Communist Party began an eight-day congress Thursday that starts an orchestrated transfer of power to new leaders who will face myriad challenges including economic reforms, corruption and maritime aggression from China.

See Full Article

Despite the veneer of renewal, the new leadership will be drawn from a limited pool of officials within party ranks and is expected to be led by the same man who has been at the top for the last five years, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (pronounced New-yen Foo Chong).

"Corruption and wastefulness remain serious problems ... causing discontent in the public, affecting people's trust in the party and the state," Trong warned in his speech to open the congress of 1,510 delegates, representing Vietnam's 63 provinces, ministries, and other party organizations.

In a reference to China, which has been expanding its influence in South China Sea to the dismay of its neighbours, Trong said the "complicated developments in the East Sea" and other economic problems have "negatively affected our country."

Vietnam is one of the last remaining communist nations in the world, with a party membership of 4.5 million, but like its ideological ally China, the government believes in a quasi-free market economy alongside a strictly controlled society that places several restrictions on its 93 million people.

Delegates stood and clapped when Trong and 15 other Politburo members walked into the conference hall at the National Convention Center near the city centre. The stage was set against the backdrop of a bust of the country's revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, portraits of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and the national flag and the hammer-and-sickle red flag for the party.

Delegates also sang the national anthem and "L'Internationale," the official song of communism.

The Communist Party is constitutionally empowered to run the country. It names a new crop of leaders every five years, but the process is shrouded in secrecy. The congress will end Jan. 28 when the names of the general secretary, the prime minister, the president, the chairman of the National Assembly and other top functionaries will be announced.

Their appointments would have been already decided, and the delegates would simply endorse them. The most crucial position is general secretary, the de facto No. 1 leader of the country, although Vietnam professes a collective leadership through a Politburo that handles day to day affairs, and a larger Central Committee that meets twice a year to decide policy.

Although the entire process is stage-managed, Trong had faced a challenge this time from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (pronounced New-yen Taan Dzoong), who has spearheaded economic reforms with mixed success. Although he is seen as pro-business and reform minded, he was also accused of economic mismanagement, nepotism and promoting patronage politics by favouring party members in return for political support.

However, it became clear on Wednesday that Trong had sidelined Dung when a preparatory meeting agreed to continue with a controversial 2014 rule barring all but officially nominated candidates from consideration, with no new nominations allowed from the congress floor. Trong was endorsed as the general secretary candidate earlier this month.

But the two camps are believed to have reached a compromise under which Trong would stay as general secretary for two years instead of five, and a Dung supporter would become the chairman of the National Assembly. The prime minister's post would go to a neutral person and the president would be a Trong loyalist.

This configuration "would be a demonstrable loss for Dung" but it should not be "confused with an outright win by Trong," said Christian Lewis, a Vietnam expert at the New York-based Eurasia Group think-tank . "It is instead a composition that reflects a desire for a balance and more consensus-driven decision-making at the very top," he wrote in a commentary.

Dung's apparent ouster "represents a clear vote by the top leaders in favour of balance over strong personalities in the make-up of the Politburo," Lewis wrote.

The development raises questions about the direction of economic reforms Dung had been backing. The reforms have brought a flood of foreign investment, created a fledgling stock market and helped triple per capita GDP to $2,100 over the past 10 years, but his rivals accuse him of economic mismanagement and failing to control massive public debt and non-performing loans of state-owned banks.

But, Lewis said, the new set of leaders will support the current economic reforms and trade policy. Notably they remain committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the United States and other key trade deals including the free trade agreement with the European Union.

"Vietnam wants to diversify its economic partners to avoid becoming excessively dependent on China," Lewis said.

Vietnam has an ambivalent relationship with China. Despite being its largest trading partner, China is also a security challenge. Beijing has been expanding its territorial assertions in the South China Sea, but Vietnam has pushed back against those claims. Dung has been seen as standing up to Beijing, not afraid to criticize it, while Trong was seen as being soft on China.

Still, the new leaders will be particularly positive for U.S.-Vietnam relations, said Lewis, pointing out that Trong's visit to the U.S. in July 2015 was well received.

Over the next week, the congress will review and set national and party policies, and select a Central Committee. On one of the last days of the congress, the new Central Committee will meet to select a Politburo from among its ranks and pick one of them as party general secretary.

The country's three other top leaders - prime minister, president and National Assembly chairman - would be named at the congress, but their actual selection will be done by the National Assembly, which itself is elected about six months after the Congress.

-----

Associated Press writers Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, and Vijay Joshi and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Canada Post is scaling back its letters-from-Santa program for kids who write from school

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada Post says Santa won't be sending as many personalized letters to kids this year, though he still wants to make sure he responds to every note he receives. The postal agency says many children write letters to Santa both from home and from school, which gave Santa and his elves a total of 1.6 million notes to reply to last year. Source
  • Hydro hip-hop: listen to two tunes about Ontario hydro bills

    Canada News CTV News
    The Wack MCs have the “Hydro Blues.” “Look at this bill -- am I reading it right?” they rap in a new music video. “If I feed my kids, I gotta shut off my lights?” Source
  • 12 dead in hotel fire in Georgia's Black Sea resort

    World News CTV News
    TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian Interior Ministry says 12 people have died in a fire in a hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Batumi. Russia's TASS news agency is quoting the ministry as saying the fire engulfed the Leogrand hotel late Friday evening. Source
  • Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S., court records say

    Canada News CBC News
    A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records. Source
  • Notley wins over Calgary business crowd, starting with 'eastern bastards' remark

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Starting with 'eastern bastards' remark, Notley wins over Calgary business crowd

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Jewish group, residents of Ontario town urge new name for 'Swastika Trail'

    Canada News CTV News
    A major Jewish advocacy group in Canada has stepped up efforts to help some residents of an Ontario town convince local politicians to rename a street currently called Swastika Trail. B'nai Brith Canada started an online petition Thursday calling on Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, to change the street name. Source
  • Fraud trial of the 'Muslim Madoff' adjourned after accused fires lawyer: Crown

    Canada News CBC News
    The trial of a Toronto businessman charged with fraud for allegedly pocketing millions in "Shariah-compliant" mortgages has been delayed until next fall — just as it was beginning. The opening day of the trial for Omar Kalair, dubbed the "Muslim Madoff" by some of the homeowners who were allegedly left thousands in the hole after buying into the mortgages marketed to Muslims, got underway earlier this month. Source
  • False killer whale is latest cetacean to die at Vancouver Aquarium

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Aquarium says the false killer whale it rescued off a beach over three years ago has died at the facility. The aquarium says in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died this morning. Source
  • 'Chester' is 4th cetacean dead at Vancouver Aquarium this year

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- A false killer whale has died at the Vancouver Aquarium, becoming the fourth cetacean to die at the facility in the past year. The aquarium said in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died on Friday morning. Source