01/12/2016, 00.00
VIETNAM

Amid tensions, Vietnam’s Communist Party preparing its 12th congress

Opposing economic and political choices underscore the confrontation between Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. Liberalisation and cautious opening to the West stand against the status quo and the Marxist regime.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The 12th National Congress of Vietnam's Communist Party is set to open on 20 January. One of its most important tasks will be to choose the country’s economic and political orientation and its three top leaders for the next five years.

Opposing factions are vying for power. Current Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung wants to become the party secretary general, the key post in the country’s power structure. Against him stands the current secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, backed by President Truong Sang Tân.

The differences between the two run deep and cover the country’s development model, the role of the Party and foreign policy.

Economic liberalisation has pushed Vietnam’s per capita income from around US$ 100 in 1986 to more than US$ 2,000 by the end of 2014, according to the World Bank.

In fact, Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, with a GDP growth rate of 6.68 per cent last year.

However, the growth-centred economic model has brought problems, such as excessive dependence on exports and foreign investment, with the state sector often inefficient vis-à-vis the private sector.

At the government level, reforms are needed to tackle corruption and improve accountability and efficiency.

Modernising the system is expected to push the country towards the West. Yet, the global economic slowdown and Beijing’s expansionism in South China Sea have complicated matters.

Vietnamese leaders will need to pursue a more dynamic foreign policy with closer ties to the United States, and less dependence on Beijing but without breaking away from its northern neighbour.

Against this backdrop, 127 well-known figures sent an open letter to the Politburo on 9 December, calling for an end to the ruling Marxist-Leninist ideology, the direct election of the general secretary and the removal of socialist from the state’s name.

Disaffected with Marxism, many of the prime minister’s supporters want to overhaul the party and the regime along liberal lines and adopt a more pro-Western foreign policy to resist Chinese expansionism.

Conversely, supporters of the current party secretary have undertaken actions that have marked Vietnam’s recent political history.

These include the arrest of Nguyên Van Dai, a human rights advocate, who was taken into custody the day a European Union delegation arrived in the country to talk about human rights, as well as the violent crackdown, a few days later, against a group called the ‘Labour Brotherhood’ that emerged after the prime minister told Asia-Pacific leaders that independent labour organisations would be allowed.

In view of this trend, a police general recently warned against the danger of a "reactionary opposition", arguing that all independent organisations should be banned.

What happened in last month’s party plenum, which was held to discuss the leadership issue, highlights the party’s travails.

Originally planned to be four days, it stretched to eight days. At the end, it decided to postpone the congress due to the lack of consensus on who should be the next party chief.

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