Vietnam’s Communist Party has re-elected its 71-year-old leader for a second term in a move that sees the conservative pro-China ideologue cementing his hold on power.
The party’s congress elected Nguyen Phu Trong to the 19-member Politburo, an all-powerful body that handles the day-to-day affairs of the government and the party. In a subsequent vote, he was immediately chosen as the general-secretary, the leader of the country.
Officials said deputy prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was also elected to the Politburo, and he is now expected to become the prime minister.
He will replace Nguyen Tan Dung, who had led economic reforms over the past ten years and had harboured ambitions for the top job.
The third most important member elected to the Politburo was minister of public security Tran Dai Quang, who will be the country’s new president, officials said.
The general secretary, the prime minister and the president, along with the chairman of the National Assembly, are the four key members in the collective leadership represented by the Politburo, and the 180-member Central Committee, which handles policy.
The renewal of the leadership means little change for Vietnam. Mr Trong is expected to continue to push Mr Dung’s economic reforms. Despite having a reputation for being pro-China, he is not likely to be totally subservient to Beijing as that would risk massive anger from ordinary Vietnamese who harbour a deep dislike and historical suspicion of China.
Le Hong Hiep, a visiting Vietnamese fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore, said: “Many people were afraid that a conservative trend would prevail if Mr Trong is re-elected. But … whoever they may be, and however conservative they may be, when they are at the helm they are under pressure to carry out reforms.”
The Communist Party is entitled by the constitution to govern and Vietnam’s 93 million people have no direct role in electing the leaders of the 4.5 million-member party.
It is believed that as a compromise with Mr Dung’s camp, Mr Trong will not serve his full five-year term but may hand over power to another leader mid-way.
Mr Dung was seen as a pro-business leader who would have continued economic reforms he set in motion ten years ago. He was also seen as standing up to China, which is making aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea.