Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was dealt a rare public blow yesterday, winning the full support of less than half of members of a parliament dominated by his ruling Communist Party in the country’s first-ever confidence vote.
The former central bank governor received votes of “high confidence” from 210 members of the 498-seat national assembly, with 160 passing votes of “low confidence” in a rare show of public scrutiny of Vietnam’s leaders.
The confidence vote follows a call from the president last year for greater accountability amid simmering public anger over mismanagement and corruption.
Given more than 90 percent of the 498 members of the assembly are Communist Party cardholders, no one expected any of the officials to get the kind of poor showing that could trigger resignations.
Still, more than 30 percent gave Dung a “low confidence” vote, a clear sign of the divisions within the party over his second-term in office, due to end in 2016.
Analysts said this showing by itself wouldn’t impact his position, but could be used by rivals in internal negotiations over his future.
They said the lukewarm response from members of a party that traditionally rallies behind its leaders demonstrated discontent with the government’s handling of entrenched graft and a once thriving economy stagnating under the weight of bad debt.
Dung, 63, received 122 votes of “confidence” in the ballot in which assembly members chose one of three ratings. Forty-seven officials faced votes and seven lawmakers did not cast ballots.
According to parliamentary law, any top officials receiving low confidence votes from two-thirds of the house must resign or face a second vote on their leadership.
Worse off than Dung was central bank Governor Nguyen Van Binh, who had 209 votes of low confidence and the full approval of just 88 assembly members.
“Their not-so-good result reflects the people’s dissatisfaction with their management of the economy and banking system,” said Nguyen Quang A, an activist and economist, who said the confidence vote was designed to appease the public while not threatening the status quo.
Dung in February approved an economic masterplan aimed at reforming cash-hemorrhaging state-owned enterprise and tackling banks’ high levels of toxic loans — factors blamed for squeezing credit growth and consumer spending, alarming foreign investors and causing more than 100,000 businesses to close.
Lawmakers chose as their best performer Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, who won 330 high confidence votes and just 28 votes of low confidence, adding fuel to public speculation of a split within the secretive party, between factions aligned with either the president or the prime minister.
The education minister got 177 votes of low confidence.
Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at Hong Kong’s City University, said the ballot showed “Vietnam was charting its own course,’’ albeit slowly.”
He said a similar event wouldn’t happen in China.
“Perhaps by necessity it is going for a brand of politics that has many of the trappings of a semi-accountable system,” he said. “For a party that has a tradition of assuming its leaders were pristine and of outstanding caliber, it is a change of tune.”