“Identifying Regional Political Trends and Markers in 2016: Vietnam and Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand,” Presentation to Debating Tomorrow’s Issues Today, Regional Outlook Forum 2016, Session 1, Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, January 12, 2016.

Below is an excerpt from the paper pertaining to Vietnam.

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The Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) will convene its 12th National Congress from 20-28 January 2016.

The congress will set the political, socio-­‐economic and foreign policy priorities for the next five years.

The most important outcome of the 12th Congress will be the selection of leaders for the top party and state posts. All incumbents will step down as they have completed the maximum of two terms in office and/or have reached the mandatory retirement age of 65.

Leadership selection has been particularly vexatious this past year due to long-­‐standing differences in personality and style between the state president and party Secretary General, on the one hand, and the prime minister, on the other.

It is an open secret that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung wants to become party Secretary General. This is unprecedented because no top leader has sought to switch office upon expiration of two terms in office. Party rules, however, permit exemptions to the 65-­‐year retirement age in special cases.

In 2015, Secretary General Trong and his followers took a number of measures to circumscribe Dung including adopting prescriptive criteria for selection to the Central Committee (a prerequisite for membership on the Politburo and higher office).

Candidates who were politically opportunistic, lusted for power, involved with special interest groups, or who
led an inappropriate life style (including spouse and family members) were not eligible for selection.

At the 13th plenum of the Central Committee, which met from December 14-­‐20, full and alternate members unanimously approved the list of candidates for the new Central Committee.

Each member of the Central Committee also completed a ballot listing their personal choice for high office: party secretary general, state president, prime minster, and chair of the National Assembly Standing Committee.

At the time of writing it was reported that the Politburo would consider special exemptions and report back to another meeting of the Central Committee for endorsement prior to the 12th Congress. If Nguyen Tan Dung is appointed party Secretary General he would bring substantial experience as a former two-­‐term prime minster with a deep knowledge of international economic issues and global affairs, including familiarity with the leaders of those countries most important to Vietnam.

Dung would pursue “proactive international integration” through the Trans-­‐Pacific Partnership and other multilateral institutions, an activist role in world affairs, further modernization of the armed forces, and continued engagement with China and deeper overall relations with the United States.

Vietnam’s political system is one of equilibrium.

If Dung becomes party Secretary General it is very likely that those who opposed his rise will be given representation on the Politburo and Central Committee.

An important marker will be who is chosen as the presumptive prime minister at the 12th Congress.

Will the new prime minister be a protégé of Nguyen Tan Dung?

The next prime minister is likely to be chosen from one of the five current deputy prime ministers.

Reports indicate that the military is divided on who will succeed the current Minister of National Defence, General Phung Quang Thanh.

There should be no major surprises in domestic policy as the draft Political Report and Socio-­‐Economic Plan, 2016-­‐2020 were circulated for public comment in September 2015.

There will be no major changes to Vietnam’s one-­‐party political system and the leading role of the VCP; but there will be continuing political reform of local government.

Elections for the National Assembly will take place on May 22, 2016.

Once the new deputies are sworn in the National Assembly will elect the state president and prime minister. The prime minister will then nominate his Cabinet (after prior vetting by the Politburo).

 

 

 

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