Election of PM clears path for new era in Vietnam

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Expectations rise for reform as old guard steps aside

The election yesterday of former deputy premier Nguyen Tan Dung as prime minister, ushered in a younger and more cosmopolitan political leadership in Vietnam.

As widely expected, three of the top four people in the power structure officially stepped down last weekend: prime minister Phan Van Khai, 72, president Tran Duc Luong, 69, and National Assembly chairman Nguyen Van An, also 69.

As well as Mr Dung's appointment, Nguyen Minh Triet, 63, the party boss of Ho Chi Minh City, was elected, also unopposed, to the state presidency.

At 56, Mr Dung is Vietnam's youngest prime minister since the country was reunified after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975.

It is the country's top government post and seen as the most politically influential position aside from that of party general secretary. Nong Duc Manh, 65, will serve a second term as party boss, the only unchanged position among the top four.

Mr Dung's relative youth and dynamic style will invite expectations that the country's reform process, which officially began 20 years ago, might pick up pace.

Vietnam is steadily posting 7 per cent to 8 per cent annual GDP growth and the signs of development are everywhere, at least in urban areas. But behind the modernisation linger stubborn problems: the slow retreat of the large state-controlled sector of the economy, an outdated education system, consistent international criticism on human-rights issues, and widespread corruption.

Vietnam analyst Carl Thayer said the path was cleared for Mr Dung to step up reforms at the recent congress, which saw some of the strongest anti-corruption rhetoric yet from party leadership and state-controlled media.

But Mr Thayer said that after a decade as understudy to Mr Khai, himself a reformer, the new prime minister will be aware of Vietnam's aversion to dramatic change.

'Mr Dung has repeatedly stated that political stability is a prerequisite for economic reforms,' he said.

The same caution is expected from the two other newcomers.

It is believed the wide experience of new president Mr Triet in dealing with foreign investors in booming Ho Chi Minh City should serve him well as Vietnam's international relations steadily broaden. His business-friendly influence may be muted somewhat by the ceremonial nature of the post.

Fourth on the list is Hanoi party boss Nguyen Phu Trong, 62, earmarked to become the next National Assembly chairman. Less well-known outside party circles, Mr Trong's background as editor of Communist Magazine and Soviet training have branded him as a conservative.

Mr Dung and Mr Triet are both from the south of the country, a break from the convention that the country's three regions are represented among the top three posts.


Nong Duc Manh, 65

General Secretary of the Communist Party, No 1 in Politburo

Only returnee among top four leaders, rising to 'first among equals' secretary position at party congress in 2001

Soviet-trained forest engineer, an ethnic Tay from a rural area about 150km from Hanoi

Seen as a consensus-builder, bridge between reformist and conservative wings of party

Nguyen Tan Dung, 56

Prime Minister, No 3 in Politburo

Succeeds Phan Van Khai, 72, following party congress in April

Born and raised in southeastern province of Ca Mau, holds law degree, reportedly studied economics in China

Former governor of state bank and had wide-ranging responsibility as deputy prime minister for past nine years

Becomes youngest prime minister, the top government post, since reunification of Vietnam after war ended in 1975

Believes reforms must spring from stability

Nguyen Minh Triet, 63

President, No 2 in Politburo

Succeeds Tran Duc Luong, 69, following party congress in April

Born and raised near Ho Chi Minh City, studied at a Vietnamese mathematics university

Credited with overseeing economic boom as party boss in two southern jurisdictions prior to rising to presidency

Seen as business-friendly, savvy, more adept than his predecessor at ceremonial functions of the president?s role

Nguyen Phu Trong, 62

Chairman of National Assembly, No 4 in Politburo

Succeeds Nguyen Van An, 69, following party congress in April

Born and raised in Hanoi, Soviet-trained professor

Long-time editor of Communist Magazine before taking Hanoi party boss job last year

Seen as a conservative, Mr Trong becomes head of quasi-elected national assembly at a time when its role in challenging office-holders on corruption has been growing stronger