A third of the Vietnam Communist Party’s 15-man politburo stepped down at a five-yearly congress yesterday, part of a reshuffle that could bring new, younger faces into Vietnam’s ageing leadership. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was re-elected, as expected, to the policymaking Central Committee, made up of the party’s top 175 officials.
However, it was unclear whether he would end up with more power when full results from the closed-door gathering are due to be announced today, including the composition of an expanded 17-member Politburo and the General Secretary.
The party is under pressure to shift focus from rapid growth to stability after a period of volatile inflation, currency depreciation and declining foreign exchange reserves.
Party heavyweight Truong Tan Sang and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung — -rivals of Dung — were also elected to the Central Committee. They are likely to move into top jobs, Sang in the presidency and Hung becoming speaker of parliament.
A deputy central bank governor, who banking sources say is likely to take over as governor, was also promoted.
However, changes to the elite politburo are unlikely to bring imminent or bold policy changes, although policymakers say they see the need for more stability.
Dung is a known quantity among investors, but Jacob Ramsay, who follows Vietnam for the consultancy Control Risks, said there was an urgent need to adjust economic policies.
“A continuation of current policies could lead Vietnam’s economy to a brick wall at some point,” he said.
Among those elected to the Central Committee was Deputy Central Bank Governor Nguyen Van Binh, putting him in line to take over as governor.
A source close to the central bank said Binh was likely to start as governor later this year when a new National Assembly, or parliament, convenes after elections scheduled for May.
As congress meets in the chilly capital, Hanoi, whose streets are festooned with red-and-yellow banners and propaganda posters, its leaders are under pressure to revitalize the party and keep it relevant in the fast-changing country.
Reading the tea leaves is notoriously difficult in Vietnam, where the party has a tradition of consensus-based decisionmaking. Bargaining can often come down to the wire.
Dung was heavily criticized last year for perceived mismanagement of the economy and for his role in the near-collapse of Vinashin, a state shipbuilding conglomerate that was sinking under US$4.4 billion in debt despite receiving extraordinary state support over the years.
Most expect Dung to get a second term as prime minister.
Hai Pham, a Singapore-based analyst at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, said a policy shift was not likely despite a backdrop of rising inflationary pressures, currency weakness and credit-rating downgrades.
But she expected the administration to announce policies to control inflation after the Tet Lunar New Year holiday early next month.
The current head of parliament, Nguyen Phu Trong, born in 1944, is often cited as the frontrunner to become general secretary. He was re-elected to the Central Committee.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, who turns 67 this year, was not re-elected to the Central Committee, meaning he will be replaced.
Emerging from the fallout of decades of war and central planning, Vietnam’s economy has more than tripled to US$80 billion from US$30 billion a decade ago. Per capita wealth has also nearly tripled to US$1,200 a year.
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