A researcher and two people with behind-the-scenes political information in Vietnam recently revealed to VOA who are likely to hold top leadership positions after the 13th National Congress of the ruling party scheduled for early January 2021.
The names that are considered the brightest and mentioned include Tran Quoc Vuong, Pham Binh Minh, Vuong Dinh Hue, Luong Cuong, Phan Dinh Trac, and Ms. Truong Thi Mai.
Mr. Vuong comes up, Mr. Phuc resists
From Australia, Professor Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales, analyzed that Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong is the most prominent candidate for the CPV’s General Secretary.
“He has extensive experience from working at the Supreme People’s Procuracy and party agencies, including Chief of the Party Central Office (2011), Member of the Secretariat (May 2013) and Chairman of Central Inspection Committee (2016). His appointment as Permanent Secretary of the Secretariat in March 2018 made him a senior figure in the party hierarchy,” Professor Carl Thayer, a longtime researcher in Vietnam, wrote to VOA by email.
Referring to the unwritten tradition in Vietnamese politics, the highest leadership position of the party is often given to the northerners, the professor of the Royal Australian Academy of Defense, University of New South Wales, mentions Mr. Vuong’s origin from Thai Binh as “a plus point.”
In theory, Mr. Vuong, 67 years old, is too old to continue remaining in the Politburo with the leading role of the party in the next term. However, Professor Thayer pointed out that Vuong is likely to be recognized by the Central Party as a “special exception” under a February 2020 party rule.
“According to the plan before the congress, Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong will give his seat to Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong … But Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc does not accept this. Therefore, Mr. Phuc has recruited many police generals to cause difficulties for Mr. Vuong before the meeting, therefore, Mr. Trong will have to sit down to avoid Mr. Vuong’s takeover,” according to VOA’s own source.
Noting the key points including “inheritance“, “development“, “sustainability” in party personnel work, Nguyen Nhu Phong, a former security colonel, told VOA from Hanoi that it is logical for Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong to be selected as a candidate for General Secretary.
However, Mr. Phong, former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper and former editor-in-chief of the PetroTimes online newspaper, cautiously added that the issue of high-level personnel is still a “difficult problem” within the party and may have to wait until the upcoming Central Committee’s Plenum.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Vietnamese leader for VOA or the transition of power may not be as smooth as foreseen by Professor Carl Thayer and former security colonel Nguyen Nhu Phong.
The anonymous source revealed to VOA that General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will remain in office for another half of his term, about two years, to prevent internal conflicts of power. The source explained:
“According to the plan before the congress, Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong will give his seat to Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong, and at the same time assign his posts in the Central Military Commission and the Party Committee of the Public Security to Mr. Vuong. But Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc does not accept this. Therefore, Mr. Phuc recruited many police generals to weaken Vuong before congress. Therefore, Mr. Trong will have to sit back to avoid the takeover of Vuong, which will affect the safety of Mr. Trong after leaving office.”
Pham Binh Minh and the “four pillars”
Regarding the broader political picture, the source said that the southern-born leadership faction will face “many disadvantages” when Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh will leave his chair, Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh will reach retirement age, similarly, with Deputy Defense Minister Tran Don, and before that, Lieutenant General Phan Van Viet will leave the position of Deputy General Director of the powerful General Department 2 under the Ministry of Defense.
Mr. Pham Binh Minh is widely known in the international arena, speaks English fluently, has a master’s degree from Tufts University in the US. All of these factors serve Vietnam well in the international arena, especially in its relations with strategic partners, said Professor Carl Thayer.
For a long time, in Vietnam, there has been an “unwritten law” that the head of the Communist Party, with the ultimate strategic decision-making power, must be a northerner; the ceremonial presidency is mainly reciprocal to the northerners or the southerners, and the prime minister runs the day-to-day operations of the ministries and branches often assigned to the southerners.
Since State President Tran Dai Quang passed away due to illness in 2018, this position has been taken over by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and has always been up to now.
It is difficulties to predict that whether Vietnam will return to a “four-pillar” structure of 4 different people holding four separate positions – general secretary, president, prime minister, chairperson of the National Assembly or not, saind Prof. Thayer.
“If the trilateral structure is maintained, Mr. Vuong will automatically hold the two positions of general secretary and president. If the ‘four pillars’ structure is restored, Mr. Pham Binh Minh will be a strong candidate for the president, as he has extensive experience in government as a deputy prime minister and two terms as foreign minister,” Professor Thayer told VOA via email.
“Extensive experience in the government is one of the main criteria for the presidency,” the professor emphasized while mentioning other qualities of Mr. Pham Binh Minh, including “widely known above. An international school, speaking English fluently, has a master’s degree from Tufts University in the US.”
“All these factors serve Vietnam well in the international arena, especially in Vietnam’s relations with strategic partners,” said Professor Thayer.
Former security colonel-veteran journalist Nguyen Nhu Phong in Hanoi said that the “four pillars” structure will return. He also commented that Mr. Pham Binh Minh is a “very good” candidate for the state president position.
Hidden figure Vuong Dinh Hue and two strength ministers
Regarding the question who can become the prime minister, Professor Carl Thayer bet on Vuong Dinh Hue, the incumbent Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee.
“Mr. Hue seems to be the most qualified person among the candidates. Before serving as the party leader in Hanoi, Hue served as the State Auditor General, Finance Minister and Head of the Central Economic Commission. He is from Nghe An,” Professor Thayer said.
However, veteran journalist Nguyen Nhu Phong commented to VOA that in Hanoi’s political circles, Vuong Dinh Hue is considered an “unknown” and is receiving mixed reviews. Mr. Phong personally “was not impressed” about this candidate for prime minister.
In Vietnamese politics, the two ministries of Defense and Public Security play a key role in defending the regime.
VOA’s anonymous source not only revealed the risk of power conflict between General Secretary Trong’s faction and PM Phuc’s faction, but also said, “The next Defense Minister will almost be General Luong Cuong, head of General Politics Department.”
There are “doubts” that Mr. Cuong has an advantage because of the support of foreign forces, and is seen as an “important link” for that force to influence the political policy of the CPV, the source with access to senior officials told VOA.
According to the Vietnamese army, General Luong Cuong, 63 years old, from Phu Tho, participated in the war on the northern border between Vietnam and China. He used to be the Political Commissar of the 2nd Corps, the Political Commissar of the 3rd Military Region. In 2016, he was appointed as the chairman of the General Political Department.
Professor Carl Thayer also predicted to VOA that Luong Cuong would become Defense Minister.
Still the anonymous source added to VOA that Army Lieutenant General Vo Minh Luong “will almost become deputy defense minister and continue to become a minister.”
Talking about the Ministry of Public Security, the source said that it was almost certain that Mr. Phan Dinh Trac would be minister.
“This man has the advantage of concurrently holding the position of a police colonel before working as head of Internal Affairs. This is also an important link that General Secretary Trong hopes to support Vuong because this Mr. Trac is a native of Nghe An, considered the most loyal to the party,” the source added to VOA.
Previously, Mr. Phan Dinh Trac held the positions of Police Director of Nghe An province, Chairman of the People’s Committee, Secretary of the Nghe An Provincial Party Committee, before becoming Head of the Central Internal Affairs Committee in late February 2016.
VOA’s own source said that Mr. Trac was “very rich” and according to a classified document seen by the source, the official did not hesitate to declare the personal property to the party that he had a huge amount of cash, not to mention his wealth real estate.
Another female to head the National Assembly
In the Vietnamese political structure, the leading role of the National Assembly has received the least attention among the “four pillars,” as the legislature has been considered a rubber-stamp.
Professor Carl Thayer predicts that Ms. Truong Thi Mai will be next chairwoman of the National Assembly on two grounds.
“First, Ms. Mai is considered to have the most qualities among qualified candidates. She holds a bachelor of a law degree and a master’s degree in public administration, was a member of the National Assembly from 1997 to 2016 and was elected to the Party Central Committee in 2011. Second, she is a woman only among the incumbent Politburo members,” Professor Thayer told VOA.
Overall assessment of the preparation for the Party Congress and personnel issues, former security colonel-veteran journalist Nguyen Nhu Phong commented that everything is going “methodically” and “well-organized.”
But he noted that there are more than 5 months to go until the congress and all forecasts from now until then are still predictions.