Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was dealt a rare public blow on Tuesday, winning the full support of less than half of members of a parliament dominated by his ruling Communist Party in the country’s first-ever confidence vote.
The former central bank governor got votes of “high confidence” from 210 members of the 498-seat national assembly, with 160 passing votes of “low confidence” in a rare show of public scrutiny of Vietnam’s leaders.
The confidence vote follows a call from the president last year for greater accountability amid simmering public anger over mismanagement and corruption.
Although Dung passed the test, analysts said the lukewarm response from members of a party that traditionally rallies behind its leaders demonstrated discontent with the government’s handling of entrenched graft and a once thriving economy stagnating under the weight of bad debt.
Dung, 63, received 122 votes of “confidence” in the ballot in which assembly members chose one of three ratings. Forty-seven officials faced votes and seven lawmakers did not cast ballots.
According to parliamentary law, any top officials receiving low confidence votes from two-thirds of the house must resign or face a second vote on their leadership.
Worse off than Dung was Soviet-educated central bank governor Nguyen Van Binh, who had 209 votes of low confidence and the full approval of just 88 assembly members.
“Their not-so-good result reflects the people’s dissatisfaction with their management of the economy and banking system,” said Nguyen Quang A, a well-known activist and economist, who suggested the confidence vote was designed to appease the public while not threatening the status quo.
Dung in February approved an economic masterplan aimed at reforming cash-haemorrhaging state-owned enterprise and tackling banks’ high levels of toxic loans - factors blamed for squeezing credit growth and consumer spending, alarming foreign investors and causing more than 100,000 businesses to close.
Tuesday’s confidence vote comes at a turbulent time for Vietnam’s only party, which was rattled in January when former members and academics drafted and publicised their own constitution to coincide with a campaign to gauge public opinion on a charter widely criticised as undemocratic.
Lawmakers chose as their best performer President Truong Tan Sang, who won 330 high confidence votes and just 28 votes of low confidence, adding fuel to public speculation of a split within the secretive party, between factions aligned with either the president or the prime minister.
“We see clearly the difference in the result and the people can now draw a comparison between the prime minister and the president, the voting result and the actions of their leaders,” said a lawmaker, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.