Charting a post-pandemic path . . .
The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) will hold its 13th National Congress on January 25, a crucial meeting to select the country’s new leadership and set key economic goals for the next five years. Past congresses have introduced significant policies, including the doi moi reforms that led to economic opening in 1986. The country ended 2020 on a high note after gaining international attention for its containment of COVID-19, hosting the virtual ASEAN Summit, and signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest trade agreement. While pundits expect continuity in government policies, Vietnam, like other countries worldwide, is heading towards a more uncertain post-pandemic future. This year’s congress will be one to watch.
Breaking from established norms . . .
Information about the country’s next top-leaders was leaked and began circulating this week on social media. Candidates for the top positions fall into two camps: those dedicated to party purity and fidelity vs. those emphasizing the country’s economic performance and reforms. Nguyen Phu Trong, who is in the former camp, will stay on as Party Secretary-General, the most influential role. Current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will become State President. As a member of the latter camp, Nguyen has been the face of a progressive and outward-oriented Vietnam. These appointments, meanwhile, indicate that the Party has granted at least two exceptions to the norm of stepping down after the age of 65. And with no southern politician tapped for the top positions, the Party also seems to have done away with the convention of having balanced regional representation.
A fragile consensual order . . .
The VCP’s unprecedented departure from these two norms may lead to further factionalization and possibly hinder the transition of power to a new generation of party leaders, including the reformist and less ideologically-inclined young cadre members who have risen to prominence in recent years. The underrepresentation of southern politicians, in particular, could exacerbate the historical North-South rivalry and create internal instability within the VCP.