The dramatic power struggle between the incumbent General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), Nguyen Phu Trong, and the current Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, seems to have ended, with Trong emerging as the victor.

Trong easily won a seat in the CPV's 180-strong Central Committee on Tuesday, January 26 - a day after it became clear that Dung's name would not appear on the official list of candidates for the political body.

By securing a slot on the key committee, Trong is on course to retain his position as the party's boss.

Trong, however, had earlier faced a challenge from Dung, who had sought to become head of the CP. But the prime minister withdrew from the contest on Monday, January 25, after he failed to secure sufficient backing among the party delegates.

The Central Committee on Wednesday will elect members of the powerful Politburo, which handles the day-to-day governance of the country, and one of the Politburo members is named general secretary.

Unusual power struggle

The contest between Trong and Dung marks a new development in Vietnamese politics. Over the past 70 years, the CPV was governed by the principle of collective consensus. Regardless of the internal conflicts, the party always presented a united front.

This also extended to the nomination of the party's top officials; these decisions are usually settled well ahead of the national congress among party elders, so as to avoid conflicts and show the party's unity.

This time around, however, no consensus could be reached by the start of the party congress over the list of candidates for the one-party state's top political post - CPV's General Secretary. The reason for this was the power struggle between Trong and Dung.

A conservative vs a capitalist

Trong has been the party's general secretary since 2011. He is considered to be conservative, principled and an expert in Marxism-Leninism. His foreign policy is tilted towards China. In his speeches, he emphasizes that the party's continued existence is of the utmost importance.

Dung, on the other hand, is seen by many as a pragmatic capitalist. Dung has already served the maximum two terms as premier, and during his career as a politician he has established a wide network of supporters and protégés.

His children - who studied in the US - and his close relatives hold key positions in politics and business. One of his sons, for instance, is Vietnam's youngest provincial secretary - in the southern province of Kien Giang. Dung is also said to favor a more US-friendly foreign policy.

Animosities

Trong and Dung have been locked in a longstanding feud. The reforms initiated by Dung, mostly economic ones in which he pushed for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, have been criticized by many party conservatives as premature and too far-reaching, fearing Vietnam could soon stray off the path of socialism.

They have also slammed the level of corruption experienced under Dung's leadership and expressed doubts about his ability to deal with country's debt problem.

Nonetheless, the conservatives have repeatedly failed to oust Dung. They first tried to do this after it became public that he was somehow involved in state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin making a multibillion dollar loss. In 2012, his political connections within the party helped him withstand a no-confidence vote. But this time, it seems that they won't be enough save him from a political rout.

Consequences for Vietnamese politics

It's still unclear whether incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will retain his position at the top of the party. Unclear is also who will fill the top positions of president, prime minister and National Assembly chief. Nevertheless, there are indications that the party conservatives have prevailed.

If confirmed, it is likely that there won't be any radical changes in Vietnam's policies - a development which is not unusual. In fact, the last time this happened was during the 1986 Party Congress where the Community Party introduced the so-called Doi Moi policies, which led to economic reforms and paved the way for 30 years of economic growth.

But the new leadership is unlikely to make such a move. They will try to make the party toe the line and oppose the "peaceful evolution" reportedly initiated by foreign NGOs and feared by the security apparatus.

The government could also take a tougher stance on bloggers and the media. But while economic reforms won't be as far-reaching as in the past, they won't be neglected given that economic development is an important tool to justify the party's legitimacy.

Deutsche Welle - January 2016


Vietnam Communist Party chief easily wins seat on key panel

Vietnam's Communist Party chief easily won a seat on a key committee Tuesday, the first step toward retaining his position as head of the collective leadership of the country.

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong secured more than 80 percent of the votes from delegates at a party congress to win election to the Central Committee, one of the two pillars of the ruling establishment, several delegates said.

He is now expected to be elected to the new Politburo, considered a formality in the orchestrated transition of power that happens once every five years. The Communist Party is entitled by the constitution to govern and Vietnam's 93 million people have no direct role in the election of the party leaders.

Trong's election was not without hiccups. He faced a brief challenge from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, his No. 2 who had ambitions for the top post. But Dung effectively withdrew from the contest, clearing the way for Trong.

Dung is seen as a pro-business leader who investors believe would have continued with economic reforms he set in motion 10 years ago. He is also seen as being capable of standing his ground in case of a confrontation with China, which has been aggressively making territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Trong is seen as pro-China and an economic conservative. Analysts say Trong's election might slow down the pace of reforms, but not stall them. He's also unlikely to be subservient to China as some fear.

Trong was among 180 who were elected to the Central Committee. The others included Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is poised to become the next prime minister, and Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang, who will likely secure the presidency.

On Wednesday, Central Committee members will elect the all-powerful Politburo, which handles the day-to-day governance of Vietnam. Its membership is expected to increase to 18 from the current 16.

Of the Politburo members, one will be chosen general secretary. Three others will be chosen prime minister, president and chairman of the National Assembly, in order of seniority.

Trong had been trying unsuccessfully for years to sideline Dung, and while contests for the top post are not unheard of, they are usually settled well ahead of the party congress.

Regardless of who is in power, the government's policies will not change radically, analysts say.

Dung, who rose through the ranks of the party and held senior positions, is a two-term prime minister. His economic reforms have helped Vietnam attract a flood of foreign investment and helped triple the per capita GDP to $2,100 over the past 10 years.

Trong's camp accuses Dung of economic mismanagement, including the spectacular collapse of state-owned shipping company Vinashin; failing to control massive public debt; allowing corruption; and not dealing adequately with the non-preforming loans of state-owned banks.

Vietnam is one of the last remaining Communist nations in the world, with a party membership of 4.5 million. But like its ideological ally China, the government believes in a quasi-free market economy alongside strictly controlled politics and society.

By Yves Dam Van - The Associated Press - January 26, 2016