Communist Party of Vietnam’s 5th Plenum: Is the incumbent chief still staying or going?

There are many speculations that a change in the leadership of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam may appear sooner than expected. Will General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong agree to leave his current position? RFA presented based on the article by author David Hutt in Asia Times on May 6, 2022.

Author David Hutt commented on the issue of top personnel of the Communist Party of Vietnam at the ongoing 5th Plenum of the Central Committee and asked whether General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong would retire after this meeting.

According to author David Hutt, if Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong – General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam – holds his position until the end of his term in 2026, then he will be 81 years old, which will make him the oldest chief of the party’s history.

Professor Carl Thayer from the University of New South Wales in Australia is quoted by the author as saying: “Over the past week, rumors have circulated among the overseas Vietnamese community in opposition to the authorities in Hanoi that… Trong will step down before the end of his term and other leadership changes will take place at an important party meeting coming up.”

Rumors of Mr. Trong’s resignation stemmed in part from an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which alleged that the recent issuance of a warrant for the arrest of a prominent Vietnamese businesswoman was part of a power struggle in the elite to see who will succeed Mr. Trong.

The person mentioned by Haaretz newspaper is Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan – former President of AIC Company – who was probed by the Vietnamese police on April 29, 2022, and detained for being involved in the criminal case “violation of regulationson bidding causing serious consequences” occurred at Dong Nai General Hospital, AIC Company, and related units.

According to Haaretz, Ms. Nhan is an important figure and broker in a series of deals to buy and sell weapons and equipment for the Vietnamese police over the past 10 years.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan was reported by France’s Intelligentonline in 2020 to be related to the arms trade between Vietnam and Israel involving corruption.

The author also quoted Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, as saying that Trong’s departure is not a new topic. According to Alexander, the unofficial plan agreed to last year was for Trong to step down before 2026 if the Party finds a suitable successor, something it was unable to do at the 13th National Congress in 2021.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai when answering RFA from Germany on May 6 commented:

Through watching the opening speech of Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, he said that in January of this year, the Politburo and the Secretariat had three days to discuss their individual member’s evaluation and review. This is a very important meeting for them to decide who is qualified to replace Mr. Trong at the 5th Plenum. In my opinion, in those three days of the conference, they have not yet chosen a candidate who can unite the Politburo, the Secretariat… let alone the Central Committee of the Party.”

Because according to lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, besides Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, 100% of the other officials in the Politburo, as well as the Secretariat have weak sides, especially the problem of corruption, faction, and incompetence. power and prestige to unify the elite of the Vietnamese communist regime. Mr. Dai continued:

So, if another character is not so capable to replace Mr. Trong, it will lead to rifts, divisions, and possibly the collapse of the regime in the future. In my understanding, Mr. Trong will continue his position, at least until the Mid-term in 2023. At that time, if no replacement has been found, he may have to remain until his term ends.”

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong delivered the opening speech of the 5th Plenum on May 4, 2022

Previously, Mr. Trong canceled a plenum in September 2018 when he was elected as the country’s president and also served as General Secretary, making him the first Vietnamese leader since the 1980s to hold two positions among the country’s four senior leadership positions.

At the National Party Congress last year, Trong continued to win a third term at the age of 76 while senior leaders often retire after the age of 65.

This, according to author David Hutt, is due to the Communist Party’s inability to agree on who should succeed him. Trong’s preferred successor, Tran Quoc Vuong, also his right-hand man, appears to have fallen out of favor.

But independent journalist Nguyen Ngoc Gia, when answering RFA from Saigon recently regarding this issue, said that Mr. Trong would leave:

I believe that at the 5th Plenum on personnel, it is very likely that Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong will transfer power. Because of the reasons that people see very clearly, the first is the problem of age and health. Secondly, his policy of ‘burning the furnace’ is also successful to a certain extent at least…”

However, journalist Nguyen Ngoc Gia also said that in the current situation, Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong’s role has ended. Especially since the war between Russia and Ukraine is taking place very fiercely… then Vietnam also needs someone who can both ensure domestic, but also ensure foreign affairs. Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Gia continued:

I think, in order to transfer power, I would choose one of two people who can hold the position of General Secretary, one is Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the other is Mr. Vuong Dinh Hue. However, between Mr. Phuc and Mr. Hue, I consider and think that Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc is more appropriate at this time. Because Mr. Phuc is the President of the country, now it is necessary to hold the position of General Secretary to ensure both domestic and foreign affairs.”

According to Professor Carl Thayer, if sudden ill health forces Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong to resign, Vietnam will face a difficult choice in finding a successor. Because according to the Regulations of the Communist Party of Vietnam, a candidate must serve a full 5-year term in the Politburo. Currently, only eight of the body’s 18 members qualify.

Two possible options to replace Mr. Trong according to Mr. Carl Thayer would be Mr. Nguyen Xuan Thang – A standing member of the Secretariat; or Phan Dinh Trac – Deputy Head of the Anti-Corruption Steering Commission.

Professor Alexander Vuving said that the race is still going on at the moment and it is possible that the Communist Party of Vietnam will surprise outsiders when choosing a successor to Mr. Trong in the next few years.

Researcher Nguyen Khac Mai, former Director of the Research Department, Central Commission for Mass Mobilization, said that the problem is not to change the party leadership, but to change the institution… or at least the method of the Party. Because if the leader is replaced but the leadership method does not change, it will not solve any problems. (Translated)

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