Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Media-savvy Vietnamese PM tipped for new term

TIPPING THE SCALES:It has been suggested that should Truong Tan Sang take over as president, the post, which has been largely symbolic, could become more powerful

AFP, HANOI

In the staid world of communist politics Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung — who is likely to be named to another term this week — has brought ambition and media-savvy, observers say.

Dung, 61, is also a survivor.

“He’s really a very intriguing politician,” said a source in the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, who declined to be named and described Dung as the most ambitious leader he has ever known.

Delegates to the Communist Party Congress that opens on Wednesday will decide on the country’s top leaders including the prime minister.

Observers say Dung, a former central bank governor, appears to have survived an aggressive challenge for his job from longtime rival Truong Tan Sang, a man the same age who also hails from southern Vietnam.

Sang is the party’s de facto second in command.

Observers say Dung was assailed last year by party critics over his connections to a bauxite mining project and debt-laden state-run shipping group Vinashin, as well as claims of ineffectiveness in combating widespread corruption.

Some deputies in the communist-dominated National Assembly called for a halt to the mining project, which is controversial partly because of Chinese involvement. They also demanded answers about Vinashin, which has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy with debts of US$4.4 billion.

Analysts say Dung fostered the development of conglomerates, including the shipbuilding firm, whose “limits and weaknesses” he accepted responsibility for in November.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist from the University of New South Wales, said Dung “had to do an awful lot of damage control” over Vinashin while carrying the bauxite “albatross.”

However, observers say the prime minister still seems to have enough support to keep his job.

The party source said Dung — who spent two decades in the army and was deputy minister for home affairs — had won the support of the security apparatus and had a base among government ministers as well as the provinces.

“Prime Minister M Dung has the rare gifts of decisiveness and daring to steer away from the iceberg,” said David Koh, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

On the cusp of a likely second term in what is widely seen as the country’s most powerful position, Dung seems primed and ready, an Asian diplomat said.

Image has been important to Dung since he took power five years ago, said Benoit de Treglode, a Vietnam specialist at Bangkok’s Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia.

His arrival in 2006 marked “the evolution of a personalization of power in a country where, until then, what was important in politics was the cultivation of discretion,” de Treglode said.

Dung stood out in the media and presented a good image on the international scene, he added.

In Vietnam, power “depends a lot on personality,” said the Asian diplomat.

Dung’s rival, Sang, is now widely expected to be named president under what de Treglode said could have been part of a “truce” negotiated between the two men.

There has been speculation that if Sang takes over as president, the post, which has been largely symbolic, could become more powerful.

Likely joining Dung and Sang in the ruling triumvirate will be Nguyen Phu Trong, 66, who is head of the National Assembly and an expert in Marxism-Leninism and party ideology.

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