BANGKOK – According to the rules of the Communist Party of Vietnam, a party leader is scheduled to step down at the age of 65 or after two terms. The country’s fanatical leader, Nguyen Phu Trung, will not qualify for reappointment either way.
But that did not prevent the party from consolidating its rule as it ended its once every five years conference on Monday, giving it a third term in an attempt to demonstrate unity and fend off more pragmatic competitors.
Mr. Trung, 76, in poor health after 10 years at the helm of the party, was reappointed Secretary-General in one of the few remaining communist dictatorships in the world. Known for his conservative ideological stance, Mr. Trung has made fighting corruption a high level of his priority, and has presided over a time of sustainable economic growth and national success in containing the Coronavirus.
Under his leadership, Vietnam is expected to maintain a foreign policy to balance Chinese and American interests, while maintaining the party’s grip at home by continuing to crack down on dissent through lengthy prison sentences.
Alexander Fufeng, professor at the Daniel K. Inoue Asia Pacific Security Studies in Honolulu: “The main message is that the party will hold on to power at all costs.” “I do not foresee any major change in the direction of Vietnam’s foreign policy or economic policy in the next five years.”
The country of around 100 million is ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam and has ruled for more than 45 years since reunification. The leadership of a one-party state is divided into three positions: the party leader, the president who is the head of state, and the prime minister who runs the government. Since 2018, Mr. Trung has held the position of Party Leader and Chairman.
The party is promoting a version of state capitalism that propelled Vietnam to 2.91% economic growth last year despite severe headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic. This was less than more than 7 percent in the past two years but is among the highest in the world.
Vietnam has been among the most successful countries in containing the coronavirus, with strict border controls, wearing masks, contact tracing and isolation of the infected. Before the recent outbreak, nearly two months had passed without a local transmission detected, and there were only 1,817 cases and 35 deaths reported.
A new study conducted by the independent Lowy Institute in Australia ranks Vietnam second in the world after New Zealand in dealing with the first nine months of the epidemic.
Vietnam maintains strong but sometimes tense relations with its giant communist neighbor to the north, which seeks to expand its influence in the South China Sea. Analysts expect Vietnam’s relations with China to remain strong, but Vietnam will continue to strive to improve relations with the United States to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Granting Mr. Trung a third term of five years to deal with these issues as Secretary General would mean violating the party’s own rules that limit him to two terms in office and waiving his minimum age for a third time.
“The party wants to project the image of unity, solidarity and strength so that it can prevent infighting between different factions,” said Tung Phu, an expert on modern Vietnamese history and politics at the University of Oregon.
Mr. Trung represents a conservative Marxist-Leninist faction within the party, which has come under increasing pressure from the more pragmatic Communist leaders of various factions.
He had selected a preferred subordinate to be his designated successor, but the party rejected its candidate. Mr. Trung chose to remain Secretary-General rather than letting the leader of a rival faction assume the supreme position.
“Basically, this indicates the failure of the party leader,” said Mr. Fufeng. “He needed to hand the baton to another conservative candidate, but his choice was not popular with Central Committee members.”
Mr Fufeng predicted that the next leader of Vietnam would be less ideological than Mr Trung, as leaders of more pragmatic factions in the upper echelons continue to compete for his succession.
“He is the last conservative to hold the position of Secretary-General,” Fufeng said, describing Mr. Trung as a “transitional leader.”
He said, “He will relax after he is gone.”
The week-long party conference in Hanoi, a long-awaited ritual, ended Monday, the day before, as many members left to deal with the novel coronavirus outbreak in the northeastern part of the country.
The rash of new cases, which could include patients with the more contagious variants found in Britain and South Africa, is by far the most severe for Vietnam. In the past four days, 266 new infections were reported.
But Vietnam reaped the economic benefits from its overall success against the epidemic. It is taking advantage of A shift in manufacturing from China To other countries as major international companies seek to diversify their operations and avoid US tariffs. Foxconn, for example, is building a $ 270 million plant for a company Apple phones and laptops assembled in Vietnam.
“Although they are a communist party, they are very conservative in Marxism-Leninism, but in economic policy they are globalized with passion,” said Mr. Fufeng.
The government maintains power in part by imposing extremely harsh prison terms on journalists and critics who speak out against it. In the months leading up to the party convention, it carried out a brutal crackdown.
In January, Three journalists – including Pham Chi-dong, founder of the Association of Independent Journalists in Vietnam – he was sentenced to between 11 and 15 years in prison. In October, another prominent journalist, Pham Duane Trung, was arrested on charges of spreading and disseminating propaganda. she He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia at Human Rights Watch, said he does not expect the suppression of free speech to end with Mr. Trung remaining in power.
“The re-election of militant Nguyen Phu Trung means that the ruling Communist Party is intensifying its repression of supporters of more democracy and human rights in Vietnam,” he said. “This conference demonstrates how little political reform is possible in Vietnam today, which remains one of the most authoritarian governments in Southeast Asia.”
In addition to his work as party leader, Mr. Trung assumed the presidency in 2018 with the death of the incumbent, Tran Dai Quang. Mr. Trung is expected to give up the presidency later this year when the National Assembly will approve the new top government leaders chosen by the party.
Under this scenario, the incumbent prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Fook, 66, who lost his bid for the position of party general secretary, would become president, a higher position in status but less power than the prime minister.
Mr. Fok, who is considered more pragmatic than Mr. Trung, has amassed a largely successful track record but has been unable to muster sufficient support in part because he is from South Vietnam. Northerners have long dominated senior leadership positions.
Mr Trung, who appears to walk with some difficulty and is said to have had a stroke, nonetheless 75-minute title delivered On the opening day of the conference in which he praised the country’s economic development and control of the Coronavirus.
There are no formal procedures for taking office if he leaves office before the end of his five-year term, but the Central Committee is expected to select a new secretary-general from among the top leaders.
“It could lead to a crisis because of all the uncertainties surrounding this situation,” said Mr. Fu.