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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Vietnam’s Next Party Secretary-
General?
Carlyle A. Thayer
January 2020

David Hutt, Asia Times Online:


We are preparing a report on what sis likely to be agreed at this year's plenums of the
Central Committee of the Vietnam Communist Party (CPV) with respect to the next
Politburo makeup with a focus on Tran Quoc Vuong's candidacy for CPV Secretary-
General.
We request your analytical input into the following issues:
Q1. First, would you agree that the three most likely candidates for the next party
Secretary-General post are Tran Quoc Vuong (Nguyen Phu Trong’s favourite), Nguyen
Xuan Phuc and Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan? And, second, what are the chances Vuong will
come out this year as the leading candidate?
ANSWER: The answer to your question depends on whether Vietnam decides to
officially combine the posts of party secretary general and state president or keep
them separate after the next national party congress. If the two positions are
combined this would disadvantage Tran Quoc Vuong because of the requirement that
the state president have extensive experience in government at multiple levels.
If the posts are kept separate a decision would have to be made to exempt the next
party Secretary-General from the 65-year retirement rule. Phuc, Kim Ngan and Vuong
will all be over 65 in January 2021. On the face of it, Vuong would be a strong candidate
due to his career within the party apparatus and state procuracy and his involvement
in the on-going anti-corruption campaign. It is significant that Vuong was appointed
Standing Member of the party Secretariat in March 2018.
Q2. What must Vuong do this year to raise his chances of becoming the next party
chief in 2021?
ANSWER: Vietnam does not run a primary or pre-selection vote for candidates for
higher office. At present, my sources tell me it is a case of holding back and being
asked to run rather than stepping forward and openly lobbying for selection.
Vuong will need wide exposure to the public and media this year to influence likely
delegates to the national congress, and especially those likely to be nominated as
candidates for election to the Central Committee. This means touching base with
provincial party organisations, especially by attending lower level party congresses in
the build-up to the 13th national party congress. It also means touching base with mass
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organisations under the umbrella of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the Vietnam
People’s Army. In short, Vuong must touch base and interact with individuals who are
likely to be selected as delegates to the next national congress, and among that
number, candidates for the next party Central Committee.
Q3. If Vuong does become the next party chief in 2021, is it likely that the anti-
corruption campaign will maintain its momentum (especially if Trong stays on as state
president)?
ANSWER: Vuong would most definitely continue to press the anti-corruption
campaign. It is the signature tune for Secretary General Trong and his supporters. It is
also a useful vehicle for discouraging individuals who might try to challenge the
personnel selection policies being developed for the next party congress.
The likelihood that Trong will stay on as state president is very low to negligible in my
opinion.
Q4. Is it possible that if a rival candidate takes the party chief position in 2021 then
the anti-corruption campaign might grind to a halt and “rent-seekers” return to
prominence in the party? In other words, will the internal debates at plenums this year
over the composition of the next Politburo revolve around the legitimacy of the anti-
corruption campaign?
ANSWER: In my view, the anti-corruption campaign is viewed by the general public as
legitimate. However, this is not the case among sections of the power elite who have
been marginalized since 2016, this includes entrenched vested interests (as in Da Nang
City) and those who profited during Nguyen Tan Dung’s second term in office.
I do not think the axel of the Vietnamese political system rests on the anti-corruption
campaign per se but on the structure of decision-making at the top that determines
the rules and criteria for those seeking membership on the Central Committee, higher
office in the central party apparatus, and a seat on the Politburo.
Any proclivity to return to “rent seeking” in the CPV and state structure will be
mitigated by the quickening pace of Vietnam’s integration into the global market
through the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, Europe-
Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, and possibly the Regional Comprehensive Economic
Partnership. In my view, we are likely to see more continuity in policy in Vietnam after
the 13th national party congress than change.
Secretary General Trong has the responsibility to lay the groundwork for his successor
and as his disposal of Nguyen Tan Dung in 2016 illustrates Trong has the political skills
to use the party system to block challengers and rivals.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam’s Next Party Secretary-General?”


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