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

  • U.S. sets up missile defence system in South Korea as North flexes muscles

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - In a defiant bit of timing, South Korea announced Wednesday that key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defence system had been installed a day after rival North Korea showed off its military power. Source
  • Vigil held for Edmonton toddler found dead near church

    Canada News CTV News
    Hundreds of mourners were expected to gather Tuesday night to honour the life of a toddler whose body was found near an Edmonton church last week. A passerby found 19-month-old Anthony Raine’s body outside the Good Shepherd Anglican Church last Friday. Source
  • Top Mexican official calls U.S. border wall a 'hostile' act

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY - Mexico's foreign relations secretary on Tuesday called U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to build a border wall not only a "bad idea" but an "unfriendly, hostile" act and said he didn't think a barrier would accomplish anything. Source
  • Trump's threat to withhold sanctuary city funds blocked by U.S. federal judge

    World News CBC News
    A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump's attempt to withhold funding from "sanctuary cities" that do not co-operate with U.S. immigration officials, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending. Source
  • Guards turned off inmate's water supply leading to his death, Milwaukee prosecutors say

    World News CTV News
    Milwaukee prosecutors weighing criminal charges for an inmate's dehydration death said Tuesday that the jail's commander failed to inform police about the existence of surveillance video showing a guard shutting off water to the cell and never turning it back on. Source
  • It's a bouncing baby bison in Banff

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Banff's backcountry has welcomed its first bison babies in 140 years. Three calves have been born to the herd that was recently reintroduced to Banff National Park. The first calf was born in the Panther Valley on April 22 — Earth Day — and since then, two more have joined the group. Source
  • Brazil police arrest 10 men accused of stealing millions in Paraguay

    World News CTV News
    SAO PAULO - Ten men suspected of taking part in a dramatic, multimillion-dollar theft from an armoured car company in a Paraguayan border city have been arrested in Brazil, officials in the Brazilian Federal Police said Tuesday. Source
  • Hearing begins into Canada Post ban on controversial newspaper Your Ward News

    Canada News CBC News
    A board of review hearing began Tuesday into a federal order prohibiting a Toronto-area publication that's been called vile, racist and anti-Semitic from being sent in the mail. The people who run the newspaper Your Ward News are challenging the order put in place in June, 2016, by the then-federal minister responsible for Canada Post. Source
  • Robert Durst's wife told neighbour of beating, threats: detective

    World News CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- The missing wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst once told a neighbour that her husband had beat her and she feared he would kill her, a retired detective testified Tuesday. Source
  • Victim told friend if she was harmed that Robert Durst 'did it'

    World News CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Years before Susan Berman was executed in her home, she foretold her fate and named her best friend, New York real estate heir Robert Durst, as her assailant, a close friend testified Tuesday. Source