Divisions in leadership could delay party congress

The Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, could emerge with greatly enhanced power after the congress

The Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, could emerge with greatly enhanced power after the congress

The Communist Party may delay its upcoming national party congress because of divisions over key issues according to a prominent foreign observer of Vietnamese politics.

“There are signs that consensus has not been reached on a number of issues including the South China Sea and relations with China and the selection of Vietnam’s future leadership,” wrote Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at New South Wales University.

The 12th National Party Congress had been expected to be held early in 2016 but Professor Thayer says there are a number of indications of delays in the preparations.

Most attention is focused on an internal party tussle for the top leadership posts. The Prime Minister, Secretary-General of the Party and President are all due to be replaced, having completed two terms or passed the retirement age.

Mainstream media is tightly restricted in reporting internal party politics – an indication of its acute sensitivity. However, most analysts believe the long serving prime minister, Ngyuen Tan Dung, has enough support on the Central Committee to fulfil his ambition to become the next party boss.

There has been speculation that he may be aiming to combine the post with that of president, a rare concentration of power in a country that has been governed by collective leadership.

In an article for Policy Forum Professor Thayer points to extremely muted preparations for the congress compared to those in the past, and the fact that official dates have still not been set.

“Normally draft policy documents such as the Political Report and Socio-Economic Plan would have been quietly released to special focus groups for discussion and comment. After fine-tuning the draft policy documents then would be released to the public for comment,” he wrote

He says that defence sources had also privately revealed to him that the new Defence White Paper, due for release this year, will be postponed until after the 12th Congress.

He says the most likely explanation is the overlap of the two most contentious issues facing the country – the composition of the leadership and fraught relations with China.

President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Vietnam in October or November. President Obama is also due later this year, putting great pressure on the leadership as it tries to balance relations between Beijing and Washington.

Professor Thayer says that Mr Dung was outspoken in his criticism of China during the crisis last year when Beijing moved a giant oil exploration rig into disputed waters off the central coast of the country.

He says the current Politburo is deeply divided.

Party congresses are held every five years, bringing together delegates from across the country as well as from organisations in the national government and the army.