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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief

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Vietnam Communist Party
Central Committee to hold
Eleventh Plenum
September 25, 2019

Q1. Yesterday, on behalf of the Politburo of the Vietnam Communist Party, Mr Nguyen
Phu Trong signed Decision No. 205 on control of cadre work and banning payment for
promotions to higher positions and power. The Decision was issued just before the
11th plenum of the 12th Central Executive Committee of the Coimmunist Party of
Vietnam next month. In your assessmewnt, why was the Decision issued at this time?
Was it due to the fact that that situation of illegal seeking for promotion has been
widespread in Vietnam for a long time? Is it true that this phenomenon has grown
recently and it has made Trong worried so ghe passed that Decision?
ANSWER: Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong is consistently and methodically
carrying out a strategy to identify a core of non-corrupt strategic cadres for key party
and state appointments after the thirteenth national party congress scheduled for the
first quarter of 2021. The Communist Party of Vietnam has already approved a list of
what party members cannot do, for example. Decision 205 aims to curtail if not end
the widespread practice of paying for promotion or assignment to a particular post.
Secretary General Trong’s drive to clean out the party ranks prior to a national party
congress is standard practice in Vietnam. But Trong’s campaign is more thorough
because of the number of explicit directives governing ethical standards and number
of party officials that have been disciplined for a number of transgressions.
There is no data available that I am aware of that would indicate that this widespread
practice has suddenly gotten any worse. The timing is likely to be due to the
methodical process of identifying shortcomings with a view to rectification.
Q2. These new regulations are quite tight, but in your opinion, are they enough to be
effective in a one-party-like state like Vietnam?
ANSWER: Generally, a one-party state lacks an efficient and independent system of
checks and balances, such as an independent legislature, judiciary, police and free
press. Vietnam does have a variety of internal investigative bodes and encourages
citizens to write letters of denunciation. But in the end it is the party that remains in
control and it “rules by law” rather than operates “under the rule of law.”
In sum, the implementation of party decisions and state rules and law ultimately is a
political process. It will take a considerable period of time to change Vietnam’s
organizational culture from paying superiors for advancement to advancement based
on merit.
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Q3. According to you, what will be discussed on the 11th plenum of the 12th Central
Executive Committee of the CPV next month? In your opinion, a will power struggle
take place at thISmeeting?
ANSWER: The agenda for the Central Committee’s eleventh plenum likely will focus
on at least topics three topics: continuing preparations for the 13th national party
congress including key policy documents and personnel selection; anti-corruption;
and foreign policy, including the East Sea issue, and relations with China and the
United States.
Q4. In your mind, are there any noticeable personnel changes will occur in the CPV’s
senior leadership before the 13th Communist Party National Congress? In your
assessment, will power struggles take place at the plenum?
ANSWER: The Communist Party of Vietnam’s default position has always been to
retain political stability. There are two official vacancies on the Politburo (three if Dinh
The Huynh’s case is included) that have not been filled. There could be appointments
to the Politburo prior to the 13th Congress.
The major unresolved issue is whether to keep the posts of party Secretary General
and state President concurrent or separate them. Much depends on the health of
Nguyen Phu Trong who holds both positions. I think it highly unlikely that there will be
changes in the other tops posts, such as prime minister and chair of the National
Assembly.
Power struggle is a vexed term because it is often not defined clearly. If power struggle
is meant to refer to a concerted effort by a faction in the party to reverse Vietnam’s
present political course under Secretary General Trong, I would argue there are no
signs that a power struggle will take place at the eleventh plenum.
Q5. Recently, there have been many wrong rumours involving high-ranking CPV
officials such as the case of Minister Tô Lâm leaking confidential documents or the CPV
General Secretary’s request for inspection of the Ministry of Health. In your
assessment, is this a manifestation of a power struggle before the CPV's 13th
Congress?
ANSWER: David Brown, a Vietnamese speaking retired American diplomat, coined the
term “an anything but [Nguyen Tan] Dung coalition” formed before the 12th Congress
to block Dung’s attempt to become party Secretary General. This coalition won and
Dung retired. Since then Secretary Trong has taken a strong hold over the party and
state and moved to discipline and/or dismiss senior party officials including members
and former members of the Central Committee and a former member of the
Politburo. In other words, there are officials and their supporters who have been
pushed aside and marginalized under the new order. This situation was certainly
exacerbated by the death of Tran Dai Quang and the decision to make Secretary.
General Trong concurrent state president.
In addition, there is a large number of retired state, party and military officials who
have been outspoken in their comments on the present leadership. There has been a
marked number of critical reports appearing in Vietnam’s social media as your
question suggests.
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If we cast our thoughts back over the years, we will notice that criticism of high-level
officials tends to emerge as the leadership selection process for the next national
party congress approaches. Criticism has been made of the behaviour of family
members of senior leaders such as Nguyen Tan Dung and Nong Duc Manh, for
example.
In addition, party organisations at provincial level represent “independent kingdoms”
within Vietnam’s one-party state. Some of the reform efforts by Secretary General
Trong will undercut their power and ability to influence the selection of members
party and state posts at provincial and national level. It is quite normal to witness a
pushback by groups that feel marginalized when their patrons are not selected.
In my opinion, what we have witnessed so far is not a power struggle per se but normal
human behaviour by individuals pushing to acquire more power and influence in the
political system. It is probably too early in the leadership selection process for
coalitions to form to support particular leaders and oppose other leaders until we
know who has been selected as a candidate. But we will witness pushback from below
as the 13th national party congress nears in sixteen to eighteen months’ time.

Media Identification: Carl Thayer is emeritus professor at The University of


New South Wales, Canberra or Carl Thayer is emeritus professor at The University of
New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam Communist Party Central
Committee to hold Eleventh Plenum ,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief,
September 24, 2019. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for
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