Vietnam’s secretive Communist Party embarks on a leadership transition

May 21, 2020

IN JANUARY FOUR grey apparatchiks with little name or face recognition inside Vietnam, let alone abroad, will emerge from a five-yearly congress of the Communist Party to take charge of the youthful country of 96m. The line-up will telegraph order and consensus, the obsession of one of the world’s most secretive political organisations. Yet, out of sight, the struggle for the top jobs will put ferrets in a sack to shame.

The consensual order disapproves of the kind of personal power that Xi Jinping has garnered in China. It calls for four “pillars”: separate holders of the posts of party general secretary (the most crucial job), state president (often a figurehead), prime minister (who runs the government day-to-day) and chair of the National Assembly (which, once wholly obedient, is gradually finding a voice). It is exception enough that Nguyen Phu Trong, the current general secretary, had to take over the job of president when the incumbent died in 2018. Next year the highest leadership will almost certainly revert to four.

The parameters are long-established. Seven Politburo members over 65 must go, to be refreshed by seven or so new recruits from the party secretariat. Only one oldie is allowed to stay, as general secretary. It is unlikely to be the long-serving Mr Trong, who is 76 and thought to be in ill health....

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