Survival politics outweigh ideology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 1996, 12:00am

The staring eyes of Lenin, Marx and Ho Chi Minh may have been bearing down on the Communist Party congress, but it was the tough politics of survival that ruled as much as ideology.

Overall, the party seems to have created a mandate for a new era of control as much as it has made any commitment to reform.

Leaders speak of growing internal and external threats, acknowledging that the expectations of Vietnam's 72 million non-party members are changing, along with their incomes, as the economy booms.

Specifics on how reforms will be improved remain thin across a raft of new party documents full of references detailing how state and party controls will be tightened.

Foreign investment, for example, will still be encouraged, but leaders are keen for the state to have a wider management role and want the private sector to sell shares to its workers.

The doors will stay open, but the party is keeping firm hold of the key.

The tone is best described by the increased military and Interior Ministry presence at the top of a Politburo headed by cautious incumbents General Secretary Do Muoi, the President, General Le Duc Anh and Vo Van Kiet.

The talk going into the congress was about 'young blood' and 'rejuvenation', but what was more striking was the advanced years of many of the 1,198 delegates as they paraded about in their Sunday best, years of revolution well behind them.

Back-room compromise prevailed, leaving little to chance in what appeared to be tightly choreographed sessions in open congress.

Such manoeuvring led to some intriguing goings-on, not least the appearance of a dead man on the new Politburo and central committee.

Nuclear scientist Nguyen Dinh Tu was apparently voted in - on paper at least - two days after his death.

Then there was the appearance of a dissenting delegate during the showy televised closing ceremony. Hai Tan complained to wide applause about new Politburo powers, but then in the same breath moved a motion that effectively gives a new internal executive even more hidden, unbridled authority.

Even veteran Hanoi diplomats are still figuring that one out.

Behind the mood that a firmer hand is needed lies an apparent confidence that Vietnam - still one of the world's poorest nations - is out of the crisis years and that the money will continue to flow in.