Vietnam’s new leadership will be determined at a Communist Party Congress from January 11-19, state radio reported Wednesday, with embattled prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung expected to retain a key post.
Observers say the secretive Congress — attended by 1,400 of Vietnam’s 86 million people — is expected to maintain the country’s course of economic openness while retaining party control of all political and social activity.
Vietnam has become increasingly integrated into the wider world and observers say the ruling party is nervous about the growing penetration of alternative voices in society.
The party founded by Ho Chi Minh is itself riven with factions, observers say, and the government over the past two years has faced unprecedented criticism from a coalition of intellectuals, some former high officials, and others who object to a bauxite mining project in the country’s Central Highlands.
They fear its environmental and social damage will far outweigh any economic benefit, and object to Chinese involvement in the development.
Some members of the increasingly assertive National Assembly — where more than 90 percent are communist — have called for a halt to the project, as well as demanded answers in the case of state-run shipping group Vinashin, which has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy.
Dung, 61, appointed Vinashin’s former chair, Pham Thanh Binh, who was suspended in July and later arrested over the group’s debts, which amounted to at least 86 trillion dong (4.4 billion dollars).
“The party today feels increasing threats to its role of directing the nation, its legitimacy and its confidence,” a former senior party official said, requesting anonymity.
Observers said in early November that a fresh crackdown was under way against bloggers and activists as political tensions rose before the Congress.
Party sources said Dung was politically weakened by the Vinashin and bauxite cases, as well as what critics see as an ineffective effort against the country’s widespread corruption.
Despite an internal power struggle, party sources say Dung appears to have survived and is likely to get a top leadership post, either prime minister or party general secretary — the number one position in the country.
A foreign diplomat said Dung is “embattled but I think he’ll pull through.”
The party’s de facto number-two, Truong Tan Sang, is also likely to join the triumvirate, which also includes the key post of president, the party sources say.
The current President Nguyen Minh Triet and general Secretary Nong Duc Manh are leaving because of age, observers say.
National Assembly chair Nguyen Phu Trong is also a possible candidate for general secretary, the sources add, although he would be disqualified if the party strictly adheres to a 65-year age limit for returning Politburo members. Trong is 66.
Members of the Congress have been elected by their party colleagues at the provincial or central level. They will vote in a Central Committee of about 150, which in turn elects the Politburo, the ruling elite of about 17 members.
The Politburo then assigns among itself the key positions.
The Congress is also expected to adopt a five-year socio-economic strategy as well as a longer-term vision to 2020.