Vietnamese PM keeps post amid errors

BACKLASH::The ruling politburo criticized its own performance amid growing public pressure over corruption and the country’s deepening economic malaise

AFP, HANOI

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 - Page 6

Vietnam’s embattled prime minister has survived a key Vietnamese Communist Party meeting that exposed the regime to rare scrutiny, provoking a backlash yesterday from the country’s increasingly bold political bloggers.

In an attempt to deflect increasing online criticism of a string of scandals that have touched the country’s leadership, Vietnam’s secretive political mandarins issued an unusual rebuke against their own performance.

The 14-member politburo — the party’s key decisionmaking body — “seriously criticized themselves and honestly admitted their mistakes,” Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong said in a speech on Monday.

However, the communist chiefs stopped short of punishing Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, 62.

The party’s 175-member Central Committee decided not to impose disciplinary measures “for the whole politburo and a member of the politburo,” Trong said after a meeting that lasted for almost two weeks, in what was seen as a thinly veiled reference to Dung.

The committee urged the party “to repair shortcomings and weaknesses in order to build a purer, stronger, truly revolutionary party that has flesh-and-blood links with the people,” he added.

Despite the unusual self-criticism, Dung’s position appears secure for now, observers said.

“The Vietnamese prime minister has been sharply censured by the Communist Party politburo, but has retained his post,” IHS Global Insight Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas said.

“There is now considerable political pressure on the Vietnamese government to stabilize their economy and take urgent measures to resolve their domestic banking sector crisis,” he added.

Rising public dissatisfaction — expressed through an increasingly spirited political blogosphere — has put Dung under growing pressure over corruption and the country’s deepening economic malaise.

Bloggers, a hugely popular news source in the heavily-censored one-party state, expressed strong disappointment that the communist chiefs did not do more to hold leaders to account for their missteps.

The party “has missed a huge opportunity,” prominent blogger Osin Huy Duc said. “The prime minister was again given the power by the central committee, but it’s the sort of power that was gained by turning one’s back against the people.”

Fellow blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh credited the party with “a step towards democracy.”

“However, coming 80 years after it was established with the initial goal of fighting for national independence and democracy, that first step is too late, too small and too timid,” he added.

Under Dung, authorities have sought to crack down on bloggers with a series of harsh jail sentences.

The former central bank governor, whose second five-year term was approved by parliament in July last year, is said to have become the country’s most powerful prime minister ever.

Seen as a modernizer when first appointed, he pushed for rapid economic growth and relied on state-owned giants to drive the economy.

However, the near-collapse of scandal-tainted shipping behemoth Vinashin in 2010 put the spotlight on the financial troubles of the state-owned companies.

Vietnam is now grappling with slowing economic growth, resurgent inflation, falling foreign direct investment and rising fears about toxic banking debts.

“The widening political rifts within the Vietnamese leadership may hamper the momentum for economic reforms, given the prime minister has been regarded as a key leader of the reform process,” Biswas said.