Vietnam’s prime minister appears to have maneuvered several protégés into key leadership roles as the country’s Communist Party prepares to select a new team to run the quickly growing country, but the reform-minded Nguyen Tan Dung himself looks set to be out of a job.

The party’s conservative secretary-general will continue in his post for at least two years, people familiar with the situation said Thursday, freezing out Mr. Dung, who had been believed to be seeking the role of party chief as term limits end his time as prime minister. The incumbent, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, leads a more conservative power block which takes a more cautious approach to key issues, including market reforms and resisting China’s growing influence in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Neither Mr. Dung nor Mr. Trong could be reached for comment. The official Vietnam News Agency reported only that a consensus had been reached at a high-level party plenum meeting before the candidates are forwarded for consideration at the party’s weeklong congress, which begins Jan. 20.

The congress, which meets every five years to chart the Communist Party’s long-term plans, could still change the lineup of leaders selected to steer one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies over the next five years, but that would be considered a rarity.

Experts on Vietnam said there will be little upheaval in the country’s policy direction despite Mr. Trong’s role as the heavyweight player in a triumvirate that is expected to include Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc as the new premier and Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang as the country’s state president. Analysts say both newcomers are perceived to be close associates of Mr. Dung.

“The current trajectory will not change, but the pace of reform will be slower and carry less substance,” said Le Hong Hiep at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies –Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “Mr. Dung is more reformist and action oriented. He is not constrained by ideological considerations, he is a practical leader.”

Among other things, Mr. Dung, now 66 years old, led Vietnam into both the World Trade Organization and the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. He also steered Vietnam into a stronger and sometimes surprising military and diplomatic relationship with the U.S. as part his efforts to counter China’s claims to the resource-rich, strategic waters of the South China Sea.

The party admonished Mr. Dung in 2012 for his handling of the economy, when growth slumped and inflation soared. But he quickly recovered and batted off a leadership challenge, in part because of a strongly nationalist stance over what Vietnam perceived as Chinese incursions into its territorial waters in 2014.

Still, some observers such as Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, say that the 71-year-old Mr. Trong, once guardian of the party’s ideological purity, has evolved in recent years.

He has endorsed Vietnam’s membership of the U.S.-led TPP trade deal and told The Wall Street Journal in written remarks last July that he hoped that America’s diplomatic and military pivot to Asia would continue. Vietnam’s former foe, he said, was a force for stability in the region.

By James Hookway - The Wall Street Journal - Janvier. 14, 2016


Communist Party's top posts revealed on Facebook

As the election for Vietnam's party leadership reaches its most critical stage, the country's social networking services have divulged what they say are the names of prospective party leaders who have received nominations. The new leadership will remain in power for the next five years through 2020.

In Vietnam, more than 40 million people have a social media account, and regulation of the online services is generally not tight compared with China, which controls the Internet rigorously. For this reason, information on social networking sites is considered more reliable than official media, which is entirely controlled by the government. According to information released on a number of these sites, incumbent Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, 72, will stay on as general secretary for another term.

On the Facebook page of Thu Ngoc Dinh, a message was posted at around 7:30 a.m. on Thursday saying that "several reliable sources presented the results of the 14th Party Central Committee as follows: 137 of the 175 central committee members endorsed the idea of Nguyen Phu Trong continuing as party general secretary, while 151 members approved the party's nomination of Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang as the new president." Thus, the Facebook message mentioned in detail the results of a vote on the party leadership's four top posts.

Because the results of voting by the Party Central Committee, the country's highest decision-making organ comprising 4.5 million party members, are top secret, the mainstream Vietnamese media refrained from citing specific names of politicians in association with the leadership reshuffle, as exemplified by a report from Tuoi Tre, the country's biggest daily newspaper, which said simply that the central committee had discussed the matter carefully. However, more than 10 Facebook users posted messages that showed the same voting results.

The leak threw the personnel selection for the new party leadership into confusion. Initially, speculation circulated that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung may do double duty as party general secretary and president, the party's second-highest post, on the back of the prime minister's overwhelming influence over the party. If he takes up the two highest party posts concurrently, following the example of China's one-party rule, it will be the first time this has happened in Vietnam's history. In addition, Nguyen Tan Dung hails from the country's southern province of Ca Mau, so he would also be the first general secretary from southern Vietnam.

Nominations for the party's top four positions general secretary, president, prime minister and national assembly chairman will be officially endorsed at the National Party Congress being held from Jan. 20-28. Decisions at the Party Central Committee are rarely overturned at the National Party Congress. If the information on the social networking sites is true, it is highly likely that the national congress will approve without change the results of the central committee's vote.

However, many critics point out that Nguyen Tan Dung may exert his power to change the nomination and become party secretary and president. But the possibility that the information was leaked on the social media sites intentionally to influence public opinion cannot be ignored.

By Atsushi Tomiyama - Nikkei Asian Review - January 15, 2016