The Vietnamese Communist Party’s eight-day Congress of 1,510 delegates is to select a new set of leaders to rule Vietnam for the next five years.
Four party members control the Politburo, which runs the country as well as the party. They are: the president, the prime minister, the chairman of the National Assembly, and most importantly, the party’s general secretary, the de facto national leader.
A rare and intriguing contest has arisen between 71-year-old incumbent Nguyen Phu Trong, a party stalwart, and Nguyen Tan Dung, 66, a two-term prime minister with greater ambitions who projected himself as a pro-business reformist.
Ahead of the Congress opening, Trong appeared to have secured his job, according to party insiders. In keeping with the close nature of the proceedings, no confirmation was immediately available.
At the last preparatory meeting, it was agreed to sustain a controversial rule enacted in 2014 barring all but officially nominated candidates, with no new nominations allowed from the Congress floor. Trong was endorsed as the general secretary candidate earlier this month.
Although the names on the official list were not publicly announced, word was leaked that on the slate with Trong would be two of Dung’s allies for the posts of prime minister and president.
Vietnam’s next leader will play a key role in deciding the pace of economic reforms, which have brought a flood of foreign investment, a fledgling stock market and helped triple per capita GDP to £1,300 over the past decade years.
He will also shape Vietnam’s relationship with China, its biggest trading partner, ideological ally and regional rival. Beijing has been expanding its territorial claimss in the South China Sea, but Vietnam has pushed back against them.
Experts believe that regardless of who takes the top spot, Vietnam’s ratification of the US Trans-Pacific Partnership trade initiative and pace of improving ties with the US will continue.
Every five years, delegates attend the congress to review and set national and party policies, and elect a new Central Committee. The country’s three other top leaders – prime minister, president and National Assembly chairman- are nominated, but their actual selection is done by the National Assembly, which itself is elected about six months after the Congress.