High hopes for wide reforms

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 September, 1997, 12:00am

Expectations for a new era of sweeping reforms are running high ahead of today's opening of a new five-year parliamentary session.

Many local and foreign analysts believe the National Assembly must select a new and vigorous group of leaders to deepen reforms and ensure the economy's recent high growth rates continue.

Pressures are building inside and outside Vietnam for reforms to improve the corrupt bureaucracy and give a fairer deal for the rural poor who form the bulk of the country's 77 million people. Major aid donors, such as the World Bank and Japan, are demanding greater commitments to stagnating reforms.

The National Assembly, the key law-making body, has become less of a rubber stamp for the Communist Party in recent years, but still sits firmly in its shadow.

'The next five years of reforms are going to be a lot harder than the first five,' a diplomat from Eastern Europe said.

'The creation of an effective parliament will be one of the key factors in any easing of the pressures.' One of the assembly's first tasks will be to elect replacements for retiring Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and President Le Duc Anh.

First Deputy PM and champion moderniser Phan Van Khai, 63, is expected to walk away from the 12-day session as Vietnam's new premier, together with Deputy Prime Minister and geologist Tran Duc Luong, 60, as President.

Mr Khai, a Soviet-trained economist, holds considerable sway in emerging business circles. The pair will be backed by a new Cabinet that is also tipped to feature fast-rising Politburo star Nguyen Tan Dung, who is just 48.

Exactly how influential the government leaders would be allowed to become would depend on the back-room views of party chiefs, senior officials said.

Secret meetings of the party's 156-member Central Committee have yet to finalise a replacement for General Secretary Do Muoi, now 80 and keen to retire.