Partyforumseasia: The re-election of 72-year-old Nguyễn Phú Trọng as Sectretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) seems to signal that the old guard is still pulling the strings. But there were also rumors during the 12th Party Congress (20-28 January 2016) that he may step down before the next congress in five years time and make way for a younger leader. How much compromise behind the scenes will be necessary for such a handover is difficult to gauge. The CPV is still communist enough not to display internal power struggles too openly. But among the published political resolutions of the congress were:
“Strengthen the party, repulse ideological decay, prevent “self-evolution”, and “train and prepare quality cadres, especially at “strategic level”.
All that sounds very much like concerns about the ideological coherence of a single ruling party which must, like other remaining communist parties, uphold its justification to rule over an increasingly complex citizenship. But it betrays as well the dilemma of the leadership to keep its grip on power while talking more openly than ever before about failures and shortcomings it is being held responsible for by the electorate. With internet penetration close to 50% and the ubiquity of mobile phones more Vietnamese can see that the country’s economic performance is well below its real potential. Maintaining Communist domination is still possible, as in China, but getting more difficult with the success stories of some neighbors in ASEAN with less interference into the markets.
NB: The party is more cautious than five years ago. The industrialization development goal has been changed from 2020 to “soon“….
The membership has increase by roughly one million to 4.5 m, meaning that the party has softened its elitist approach, and more citizens find it rewarding to be a member, probably because of some material or other privileges.
NB: The newly elected Central Committee (CC) is younger ( average age 53 ) and many members have better educational credentials, but only 10% are female.
Reunification Day, Victory Day or Liberation Day is dating back to April 30, 1975, nearly 41 years ago. But only 22 % of the members represent the South in the new CC. There is some lingering resentment about that in the CC and the population of the South.
What can be expected from the new team? The party maintains its strong grip on power and control. The reform process must and will continue but pace and effectiveness are uncertain. The constraints within the system will not unleash the full potential of Vietnam as fast as it could be done.