Party internal debate about three-pillar or four-pillar leadership?

The fight against COVID-19 seems to have been put under control as Vietnam has not recorded any more new infection of coronavirus for many days, the situation is controlled with only 270 positive cases and no deaths. Airlines were permitted to resume their domestic flights from Thursday while social separation measures have been removed in most places, except for a few districts in Hanoi. But senior Vietnamese officials already had another war more fierce than COVID-19: the race for the 13th Congress of the ruling communist party. The struggle for power in Vietnam entered a fierce phase.

A big, decisive question for choosing the most powerful positions is whether the Communist Party will continue to pursue the current general secretary general cum president, or return to the traditional model of “four pillars.”

Vietnam’s “three pillars” including Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan

After Ho Chi Minh’s founder passed away, the Communist Party avoided centralizing power by dividing its leadership with the “Four Pillars” – the four most powerful positions – the general secretary, the president, the prime minister and chairperson of the National Assembly.

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, 76, became president in October 2018 after Tran Dai Quang died suddenly at the age of 61. Initially considered a temporary solution, but so did creating a situation similar to that in China, where Xi Jinping served as president and party secretary at the same time.

Dr. Nguyen Hong Hai, researcher from Center for Policy Future, Department of Humanities and Sociology, University of Queensland, Australia, said that although currently raising the issue of controlling power, in terms of party support, the dual-role model of these two titles is somewhat supported.

Mr. Hai also noted that the issue of a person who both holds the position of general secretary and president of the country was raised by the 8th and the 9th National Party Congresses. However, it was not yet eligible.

According to Dr. Hai, however, the unification of the two positions requires not only the person in charge of that positions in terms of prestige and capacity, but also the assistant apparatus must be very clean, requiring very smooth coordination in the apparatus for different responsibilities for each position, avoiding confusion about the function and operation of each position.

Observers said that there are currently three candidates emerging for the position of the party’s chief: PM Phuc, 65; NA Chairwoman Ngan, 66 years old; and Standing Secretary Tran Quoc Vuong, 67 years old.

If you go back to the traditional model, that is, the “four pillars” held by four different Politburo members, then Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong has many advantages to become General Secretary, because he is a person currently in the fourth position of power in the Party (after Trong has assumed the position of President since August 2018). He has also held a position suitable to the title of the party leader. In this position, the age requirement may also apply to exceptions.

Mr. Vuong’s file is also very clean, can be considered clean and he has been an assistant to Mr. Trong since his stroke rumors. Mr. Vuong can be considered a relatively drastic person if Mr. Trong gives a green light in some cases of corruption.

But how brave Mr. Vuong is is still an issue to watch as Mr. Vuong has never passed the local leadership. Mr. Vuong is only a central office official and has been working for the Procuracy for some time and has not been able to see how he has performed in the diverse and complex issues of the country, especially in the field of foreign affairs or economic executive.

Meanwhile, if the current model of General Secretary cum President is held, incumbent PM Phuc will have more advantages.

In terms of advantages from the way of demonstrating the ability to manage and solve problems, Phuc is a good candidate.

According to Dr. Hai, “Vietnam’s economic achievements in the current term, especially in the past 2019, as well as Mr. Phuc’s performance in foreign affairs over the past time have shown that.”

Moreover, since Mr. Trong has suffered from illness in Kien Giang so far that makes him no longer attend events, Mr. Phuc has stood out almost as an executive, directing in roles in fields such as national department, police, which is undertaken by the General Secretary. PM Phuc stands out as a representative face of Vietnam in the world, meeting leaders from the US, Russia, China, Japan and India. He has acted as a country leader, handling domestic and foreign affairs since April of last year.

According to Dr. Hai, with all such experiences, as well as with next year Mr. Phuc at the age of 67 – the age is not too high – at the same time, by observation, Mr. Phuc is eligible to be in charge of the work of the party general secretary and the country’s president.

But his job as prime minister is considered to be a lie when he always raises the numbers to make the country’s economic situation stand out. GDP growth rate is always high even though no major projects have been carried out throughout the year.

As of September 2019, about VND500 trillion of government bonds were deposited while paying high interest. ODA disbursement was only 2.5%. The number of enterprises dissolving much. So, why is there such a beautiful growth figures? It can only explain that it has been faked.

Mr. Phuc was also accused of having a backyard, having junior disciples and causing many complex problems. Like a flood control project in Saigon of up to VND10 trillion in which Mr. Phuc’s son-in-law Vu Chi Hung is involved. The State Bank of Vietnam has pumped into the Trung Nam Group to implement a flood control project of up to VND3 trillion. This is the clearest expression of that, Mr. Phuc is no less than Mr. Dung when his children also participate in money matters.

Regarding the possibility of becoming the first female general secretary of NA Chairwoman Ngan, expert Le Hong Hiep, of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said: “Vietnam is not ready for the general secretary is female.

It should not ignore the importance of geography. The wartime rivalry between Hanoi capital and the southern commercial center, Ho Chi Minh City, always persisted. At the top is the general secretary who always belongs to a character of the North or the Central. Ms. Ngan is from the South.

During the 2016 General Assembly, then PM Dung, from the South, was considered a strong candidate for the position of the general secretary, but he was forced to withdraw after the fight with Mr. Trong.

Dr. Hai said that Ngan would be suitable for the position of PM because she has experience in running the NA. She has also been a member of the Government in charge of minister of labor – invalids and social affairs or deputy minister of finance, as well as experience from grassroots experience.

However, Ms. Ngan also did not win the full support, because there are still ideas that she was not enough to be PM.

In addition to these three candidates, Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, head of the Central Organization Committee, was considered by The Diplomat to be a young candidate with a strong track record in the field of economic and administrative reform, he achieved success. This achievement was made as secretary of Quang Ninh provincial Party Committee, one of the richest provinces in the country. Even so, he will only complete his first Politburo term in 2021. His current position may also be a weakness: There has never been a Secretary-General who had previously served as chairman of the Central Party Organization. There is a logic for that, because such a person would be deemed to have too much power in the top office and at the same time hold all the high-level personnel records of the Party. That is the case almost like a notorious Soviet character Lavrentiy Beria. Besides, Chinh’s inability to persuade and introduce the Special Economic Zone Bill that caused violent protests in Vietnam last year will undermine his credibility.

The PM position is predicted with many potential candidates.

If Hanoi’s goal is to keep its distance from Beijing and move closer to Washington, then according to some, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh is suitable for the position of prime minister or president. Minh, a native of the North, seems to be fond of China but fluent in English, holds a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, the US.

Mr. Vuong Dinh Hue, Hanoi’s Party Secretary and Mr. Nguyen Van Binh, former Governor of the State Bank were also raised for the position of PM.

When asked about some observers’ previous predictions regarding the possibility of Mr. Nguyen Thien Nhan becoming prime minister, Dr. Hai said that this is difficult.

He said: “There will be few people supporting Mr. Nhan becoming PM, because looking at his achievements when he was DPM or minister of education and training, then chairman of Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee or immediately even when he went to Ho Chi Minh City to be the Secretary of the Party Committee, we see that he was a peaceful, not drastic person.

Meanwhile, with GDP growth of 7.2% as in 2019, it is very difficult for the coming years to maintain the momentum of growth at least or not below that level. This requires the PM to be very active and drastic in directing and operating. Secondly, the PM position is rarely chosen from special cases of age, while in 2021, Mr. Nhan is 68 years old, so if you do not hold a position in the party it will be difficult to pass the age limit rule.”

An equally controversial issue is whether incumbent General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong has resigned from politics.

The first time the international press mentioned rumors about Nguyen Phu Trong’s health status on April 19, 2019

Some experts believe that Trong’s time is far from over, despite his advanced age and illness. He could maintain both positions.

The introduction of new regulations on leadership changes in January and joining the COVID-19 pandemic review conference reinforced the rumors that Trong would remain in office.

Some say that Trong’s continued presence will contribute to political stability. But it also means that the four pillars are still reduced to three so Trong will continue to seize power.

The race from now to the 13th Congress is “to determine who lives, who goes, who goes up, who goes down.”

Whether returning to the four pillars or continuing to maintain the temporary headquarters, the leadership of next year will be busy with dealing with the aftermath of 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gross domestic product increased by only 3.82% in the first quarter, far behind the rate of 6.97% in October-December last year. The latest forecasts of the International Monetary Fund on April 14, 2020, show that the economy will only grow by 2.7% or even negative this year.

In foreign affairs, as president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, Vietnam had to postpone its summit in Da Nang until at least the end of June.

Hanoi had wanted to promote ASEAN cooperation as a stepping stone against China and promote ASEAN’s promising economy in the international arena, but these goals have been delayed because of the pandemic.

The race for the 13th Congress is entering a thrilling moment.

The article entitled “Some issues that need special attention in the preparation of personnel of the 13th Party Congress” of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was published in the media in Vietnam on April 26, showing the leaders’ “very communist vision.”

One of the key points, throughout the above article, is the work of party cadres attached to the regime. For the 13th National Congress, it was determined that the “pivotal” task of the party is related to the survival of the Party, the destiny of the regime, the development and strongness of the country.

Member of the 13th tenure of the Central Committee, according to General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong “must have both morality and talent, of which morality is the root.”

Thereby, it is sufficient to understand that Vietnam’s high level personnel at the next Congress have a noble purpose of maintaining the regime. And so, the regime will uphold the communist “morality” with a corrupt, backward and miserable mindset.

The future for a Democratic and Liberal Vietnam will still have many obstacles.

Thu Thuy from Hochiminh city – (Translated)

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