Vietnam: The Policy Process


Professor Carlyle A. Thayer

Vietnam is a one-party state. The authoritative policy and decision-making body is the Vietnam Communist Party's (VCP) Central Committee and not the Government (Cabinet) or National Assembly. According to the official view, Vietnam's political system functions through 'the mechanism of the party's leadership, the state's management and the people's mastery'.

The Central Committee is composed of 150 members who are elected for a five-year term by a national party congress. According to party statutes, the Central Committee must meet a minimum of twice per year. The task of the Central Committee is to refine the broad socio-economic and strategic guidance provided by the national party congress. Resolutions adopted by the Central Committee are transmitted to state institutions such as the Government and the National Assembly for implementation.

Since the ninth congress in April 2001, the VCP Central Committee has held seven executive or plenary sessions, well above the norm. In 2002 the Central Committee held three plenary meetings. These are numbered consecutively from the last party congress. The fifth plenum was held from 18 February-2 March, the sixth plenum from 4-15 July and the seventh plenum from 8-9 November.

The fifth plenum adopted five resolutions touching on three main areas: priority tasks for economic development, renovation of the political system at the local level, and 'theoretical work in the new situation'. The fifth plenum stressed the importance of both the cooperative and private sectors in Vietnam's socialist-orientated market economy. For the first time party members were given the green light to engage in private business.

The sixth plenum adopted policy resolutions related to three major domestic issues. First, priority was given to developing education-training and science-technology up to the year 2010. As a result major reforms of the state education sector will take place over the coming years. Key technologies have been targeted for development and foreign direct investment will be sought in priority areas.

Second, the plenum endorsed Prime Minister Phan Van Khai's list of new cabinet members and a reorganisation of government ministries. These proposals were then submitted to the National Assembly for approval. Three new ministries were created and twelve ministerial changes were approved. Third, the plenum expelled two of its members for their involvement in the Nam Cam corruption scandal.

The seventh plenum discussed a report on the socio-economic development plan for 2003 and gave its approval to go ahead with two major projects: the controversial Son La hydro-electric power plant and the Ca Mau nitrogenous fertilizer complex. The discussion on socio-economic matters noted with concern 'from 2003, when the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement takes effect with the abolition of non-tariff protection and reduction of import tax levied on numerous items, more pressure will be put on the competitiveness of domestic products'. It mapped out plans to concentrate on a few key projects by mobilizing domestic resources and encouraging foreign domestic investment.

WATCHPOINT: Under the stewardship of party Secretary General Nong Duc Manh, party committees in state institutions, such as the Politburo-appointed Board of Government, will play a more proactive role in pushing Vietnam's reform agenda forward.


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