04/20/2006, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Dogged by crisis, Communist Party holds its 10th Congress

Widespread graft, lack of freedom, too much red tape are among the problems that threaten the party's survival. Major turnover is expected in Politburo. General Giáp steals the show.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Vietnam's ruling Communist Party has opened its 10th congress which will select the next politburo and set policy orientation for the next five years. In a surprise move, General Võ Nguyên Giáp, hero in the war against Japan, France and the United States, makes a noticeable come back.

In the next few days, 1,178 congress delegates representing some 3.1 million party members in a country of 83 million people will elect the 150-member Central Committee and the general secretary as well as adopt new policy directives for the next five years. For the first time delegates will be allowed to make their own nominations rather than simply rubberstamp decisions made by the top brass. This change is a sign that the Communist Party is at a crossroad, dogged by an internal crisis as well as one concerning its function in society and so decisions, normally taken by the leadership, ended up at the congress.

It is expected that up to two thirds of the 15-member Politburo may change, including party Secretary General Nông Ðức Mạnh, Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải and President Trần Đức Lương.

General Giáp, 94, a close aide to Hồ Chí Minh and a hero who for decades fought foreign invaders and masterminded the 1954 victory at Điện Biên Phủ that humiliated the French, made a comeback.

He spent the last 25 years in relative political wilderness after laying charges of graft and corruption against party leaders and complaining about red tape. Delegates greeted him with applause yesterday as he spoke as a "special adviser" demanding more transparency and democracy within the party, and action against corruption.

"A party that conceals its defects is a spoiled one," he wrote in a letter published in state newspapers. "A party that dares to admit and clarify as well as fix its errors is a brave, strong and true one."

Vietnam is currently undergoing dramatic changes. Economic growth is accelerating and its economy is opening to world trade but more and more voices are demanding greater democracy and a multiparty system.

Opening the session, party chief Manh told the congress that corruption was threatening the "survival of our regime" and must be wiped out but also warned against Western influence and the use of the internet by "hostile forces" as part of a "conspiracy of peaceful evolution".

Graft and corruption are indeed widespread. Paying off traffic officers, doctors and other public servants has become commonplace. In January a scandal centred on a transport ministry project management bureau known as Project Management Unit 18 or PMU-18 made it into Vietnam's press. PMU-18 director, Bui Tien Dung, is accused of having gambled US$ 2.4 million of state funds on football matches in just two months. Other state officials are accused of embezzlement to pay for homes, luxury cars, prostitutes and gambling.

Earlier this month the mounting outcry finally forced the resignation of Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh. His department manages foreign aid money and now donors want answers.

In its most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International ranked Vietnam 102nd out of 146 countries. (PB)

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