Vietnam: Reforming The Reformers


Professor Carlyle A. Thayer

The Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) held the sixth plenary meeting (second session) of its Central Committee from 25 January to 2 February to discuss 'fundamental and urgent issues' concerning party-building. In other words, the meeting focused on ways and means to improve the efficiency and administrative performance of the VCP in implementing Vietnam's reform program.

The first session of the sixth plenum met in October the previous year. This meeting discussed socio-economic policy for the next few years. It is highly unusual if not unprecedented for the Central Committee to hold a split session. The second session was postponed at least twice.

The second session of the sixth plenum was held under the shadow of several important developments. Firstly, the VCP announced a bumper crop of 106,000 new recruits in 1998. This intake exceeded all years since 1986 when 'doi moi' was adopted. More than half of the new members were under thirty years of age.

Secondly, the VCP was faced with a new round of internal party dissent spearheaded by very senior retired officials. Foremost among this number was General Tran Do, former head of the party's Ideology and Culture Commission. General Do has been continually vocal since peasant unrest in his native province of Thai Binh turned violent in late 1997. General Do was expelled from the party. This provoked a renewed round of protests and even one resignation by a former high-level military historian.

Thirdly, the sixth plenum (second session) was held amidst speculation of major changes in party and state leadership sparked by the death of Politburo member, and former Minister of Defence, Doan Khue.

The sixth plenum focused its attention on ways to counter the degradation in the party's ranks caused by corruption, excessive bureaucracy, 'individualism', and internal disunity. The plenum resolved to launch a three-year 'criticism and self-criticism' campaign designed to rid the party of its degenerate members and restore unity.

In the meantime party officials have been tasked with drawing up guidelines on the question of the extent to which a party member and his/her family members can participate in private economic activities.

The sixth plenum postponed the question of a leadership change until a later date. In the meantime a task force has been set up to design a plan to slash the party and state bureaucracies. This will be presented to the seventh plenum tentatively scheduled for mid-year.

The above developments suggest that the VCP will be preoccupied with internal matters over the next year. The party Secretary General, Le Kha Phieu, will face mounting pressure from both the left and right to take action against corrupt high-ranking officials and internal party dissenters. The pace of decision-making is likely to slow. There are uncertainties affecting the ministries of finance, planning and investment and foreign affairs due to rumoured leadership changes.

[The views in this article are the author's personal views and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.]

WATCHPOINT: In this climate Vietnam is not expected to embark on any new bold efforts to kick start a process of 'doi moi two'.


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