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Vietnam: Citizens Must Pay Trillions Of Dong For The Party Congress, Regardless Of Party Membership

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The 8 Party Congress (2020-2025 term), Party Bureau of the Bac Ninh Province People’s Committee, February 2020. Photo Source: baotintuc.vn.

By the most conservative estimates, the amount of money citizens pay to fund Party congresses at just the local level is enough to keep the Government Inspectorate running for more than 25 years. 

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Local party committees throughout the country have begun organizing party congresses to elect “elite” representatives to attend the 13th National Party Congress, an event which occurs every five years. They will elect members to the Party’s Central Committee, from which the Secretariat and the Politburo will be drawn, as well as those positions seen as stepping stones to Vietnam’s top leadership posts. 

However, these strictly party affairs actually draw from the government’s budget, tapping into taxpayer money that could be used for state administration or policies supporting people’s livelihoods. 

This article will summarize a number of counter-intuitive but actual political realities that Vietnamese citizens have faced for decades and will most certainly continue to face if fundamental changes do not occur. 

Total expenditures undisclosed, possibly quite large

Before diving deep into legal issues, we’ll provide a general overview on how budgets are used for Party congresses. Currently, costs associated with organizing Party congresses remain ambiguous. 

The general scope of regulations in the Law on Access to Information excludes transparency regarding the operational finances of political and socio-political groups.

On the other hand, the State Budget Law contains Article 15, which stipulates responsibility for publicizing the state budget.  However, the law only regulates this responsibility in regards to governmental bodies rather than political organizations.

Finding information on the costs of organizing the Party Congress specifically, and the costs of running party organizations more generally, forced me to try my luck with reports from the Ministry of Finance, the state management body directly responsible for the budget and national expense.

Accordingly, we found that the Ministry of Finance established a separate website that was quite easy to navigate and use. However, the detailed budget information provided was not helpful for readers, regardless of what they were looking for. 

Take this example from April 15, 2020:  the Ministry of Finance issued an estimated implementation of the 2020 Quarter I budget, that is, the time period during which finance plans and preparation costs for Party congresses are laid out beginning in May. 

However, the roster of expenditures only lists three accounts: normal costs (the highest, at 343 trillion dong, or US$14.7 billion), interest and debt costs, and salary reform costs. The estimate clearly is of no use to citizens who want to inspect and oversee financial transparency. 

Because of this opacity, I’m forced to look for sources of information at lower levels and with broader scope. Such a manner of research will reduce the ability to generalize regarding the financial “voraciousness” of Party congresses. However, this seems to be the only way to actually get an understanding of such expenditures. 

For example, this past April, official correspondence from the Lang Son Province People’s Committee sent to the Ministry of Finance asked for financial support in organizing the province’s Party congresses for the 2020-2025 term. The amount requested ran upwards of 85 billion dong for these fleeting party events.

More specifically, the provincial People’s Committee requested nearly 10 billion dong for the provincial Party Congress and 66 billion dong for district-level congresses. There were even expenditures totaling more than 10 billion dong to “renovate and repair service projects for the Party Congress at all levels” (these fixed expenses should have been calculated separately according to the law; it is unknown how this is permissible). 

More importantly, it must be remembered that Lang Son is a mountainous and sparsely populated province, with few party members and a cost of living that ranks among the lowest in the country.

In another document that I found from the Quang Tri Township People’s Committee (a district-level body), promulgated on February 28, 2020, the amount of money this committee requested that the provincial Finance Office send to the Central government in Hanoi for approval for its locale reached 5.7 billion dong.

According to the document, money spent to cover the expenses of representatives and guests for the two-day Party Congress at the commune-level alone would amount to almost 800 million dong, propaganda work in service of the congress would be 150 million dong, and money “for direct supplement payment” would be nearly 300 million dong.

Another district, Huong Hoa, requested 2.5 billion dong in funds for district-level Party congresses and 5.1 billion dong for commune-level ones, totaling approximately 7.6 billion dong.

Quang Tri Province has 10 district-level administrative units, Lang Son has 11. The population of Quang Tri is about 600,000 and Lang Son about 800,000; both provinces have among the smallest populations in the country, and both economies perform below the national average.

Therefore, if I use the figure for Lang Son (85 billion dong) as the average for each province, then I can extrapolate that the total costs for organizing Party congresses in all 64 cities and provinces is nearly 5.5 trillion dong, not including the central Party organizations and the National Party Congress. And this is a conservative estimate.

According to the data Luat Khoa Magazine has gathered in previously articles, this amount is enough to keep the Government Inspectorate and the Government’s Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs operating for more than 25 years, with enough left over to fund the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development—one of Vietnam’s pivotal ministries—for up to a year (the 2020 estimate is 5.3 trillion dong.

Laws about the Party’s funding are regulated by the Party’s Central Office.

This is not some kind of sensational headline to attract readers; it’s the truth. 

In the State Budget Law mentioned above, Articles 36 and 38 tell us that both local and central budgets are also responsible for funding the activities of political organizations (i.e. the Communist Party of Vietnam). 

In Items 7 and 8 of Article 8, which covers the state budget’s principles of operation, the operational expenses of sociopolitical-industrial organizations, social organizations, and socio-industrial organizations are handled according to principles of self-sufficiency; the state budget only covers tasks the government assigns. The state budget was created to help political and socio-political organizations balance their operational books. 

That’s the extent of what the State Budget Law says about the Communist Party of Vietnam’s coffers.  

Government Decree 163/2016 provides a bit more detail to the State Budget Law, stating in Article 9 that the government “entrusts the Ministry of Finance to lay out specifics in the management and use of the state budget for Vietnamese Communist Party bodies.”  

The Ministry of Finance’s Circular 40/2017 has regulations on business expenses and conference organizing fees which give us a bit of hope in understanding how the budget is used for Party activities more generally and Party congresses at all levels more specifically, by providing us a legal basis on paper.

But right in the circular, the Ministry of Finance affirms that the use of the budget for “the National Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Party congresses at all levels up to the national level, conferences of all bodies under the Vietnamese Communist Party” will be implemented separately according to levels of jurisdiction, but it does not specify which levels. 

So  we’re left to ask, which level or levels of jurisdiction ultimately decide the budget for the Party congresses?

I gradually realized that it was difficult to find any kind of legal basis managing how the budget is used for Vietnamese Communist Party activities.  

The “legal” basis often cited in related documents mostly stems from Decision #99-QĐ/TW, issued May 30, 2012 by the Party Central Secretariat, promulgating regulations on Party business expenses, of Party organizations at the fundamental level and those directly above (“Decision 99”). 

Expenses of all Party congresses up to the 13th National Party Congress this year are regulated by Decision 3989-QĐ/VPTW, issued August 16, 2019 by the Central Party Office. 

As of now, I haven’t been able to find the entire text of Decision 3989, possibly because it was only circulated internally. But this, perhaps, demonstrates best the contradictory manner in which the Vietnamese Communist Party handles budget transparency.

Particularly with Secretariat’s Decision 99, we can see that this document contains regulations that seem to carry more force than even legal documents issued by the National Assembly.

In essence, Party organizations have jurisdiction over establishing and assigning expense estimates, as well as allocating funds and also regulations for balancing the books – all while using the state budget; this decision also regulates tasks by the people’s committees at all levels, as well as other government bodies responsible for ensuring funding for Party activities.

A concrete example in Item 1, Article 5 of Decision 99, states: 

“Based on approved estimates, people’s committees in communes, wards, and townships are responsible for guaranteeing operating expenses at the committee level, must balance the books according to regulations in the State Budget Law, and must report to their committee level and the committee level directly above.”

As such, when speaking of jurisdiction and general scope, documents issued by Party organizations are no less valid than laws passed by the National Assembly or decrees issued by the government.

***

The problems that I’ve expounded on above are not new. They’ve existed in this political system over the whole of Vietnam for more than 40 years. However, when trillions of dong are spent simply for the Communist Party to pick its own board of leaders, then taxpayers all over the country should accelerate discussions on why this phenomenon keeps occurring.  

One budget nurturing two states—how can this be seen as the only way to manage Vietnam’s public finances?

The original Vietnamese version of this article was written by Bui Cong Truc and published on Luat Khoa Tap chi. Translated by Will Nguyen.

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Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh Elected To The VCP’s Politburo. What Does This Mean?

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Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh during a National Assembly's session. Photo credit: VietNamNet.
Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh during a National Assembly's session. Photo credit: VietNamNet.

First, it means that the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court, Nguyen Hoa Binh, has been officially promoted. He was elected to the Politburo for the first time on January 31, 2021, at the first meeting of the VCP 13th Central Committee.

Nguyen Hoa Binh is the second chief justice in the history of Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court to be elected to the Politburo. The Politburo is the agency that chooses the most powerful politicians in the Party. 

The other chief justice on the Politburo was also named Hoa Binh, but had the surname Truong; he was elected to the Politburo in January 2016 at the 12th Party Congress. However, Truong Hoa Binh was moved into an executive position as the deputy prime minister almost immediately thereafter, when Vietnam’s National Assembly met in a special session during April of that same year. During that time, it was Nguyen Hoa Binh who replaced Truong Hoa Binh as the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court and he held this position since.

If Nguyen Hoa Binh can continue to be the chief justice for the next five years, it will be the very first time that the Supreme People’s Court has had someone with real power in the Politburo.

A chief justice in the past was not a very meaningful position in the Party. Up to now, there have been only a few chief justices that were included as members of the Central Committee.

In addition to the two “Hoa Binhs” mentioned above, there were only two others, Pham Hung and Nguyen Van Hien. The other three chief justices – Pham Van Bach, Tran Cong Tuong, and Trinh Hong Duong – were not even selected as members of the Central Committee. The absence of the chief justices in the Central Committee glaringly emboldened the Party in how it dealt with  the judicial branch in Vietnam’s political system. That is, the Party did not see the judiciary as a body with significant power.

One would think that judges and justices should not be members of the only political party in the country so that they can be neutral and independent. One would hope that the judicial branch would remain neutral so that we can have fair trials in the country. However, in reality, this is not the case in Vietnam.

Vietnam does not have an independent judicial branch and the above standard cannot be applied in this country. One’s position within the Party determines the actual political power of a party member, and not any state position one may also hold. The Politburo is the agency that Vo Van Kiet – at one time – had considered to be “superior” to the Central Committee, and gaining a position on the Politburo was the ultimate political goal for the most ambitious and successful Party members in Vietnam.

Phiên tòa giám đốc thẩm vụ án Hồ Duy Hải ngày 6/5/2020. Ảnh: TTXVN.
Chief Justice Binh (standing) in the cassation hearing of the Ho Duy Hai case on May 6, 2020. Photo courtesy: VNA.

Being in the Politburo is a reward that the Communist Party gave Nguyen Hoa Binh. We do not know enough to say what he did to receive such an honor. But what he has done in the past five years may possibly offer us some clues.

His appointment is most likely a reward for his role in directing the courts to hear a series of prominent cases related to the “anti-graft” campaign that General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong started. For the first time in Vietnam’s contemporary history, many high-ranking party members were tried and convicted with extremely heavy sentences: Dinh La Thang, Nguyen Bac Son, Truong Minh Tuan, Trinh Xuan Thanh, and others.

Other prominent cases may also include the cassation trial of the death row inmate Ho Duy Hai and the Dong Tam trial in 2020.

Also, there were many political cases in the past five years which the Party deemed to be closely related to the security of the regime. These include cases related to the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (2020), the Brotherhood of Democracy (2016), Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (blogger Mother Mushroom, 2017), etc. From 2016 to date, the number of dissidents who have been tried has increased much higher than in the past, to the point that the opposition has almost been wiped out in Vietnam.

If the VCP rewarded Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh for the way he handled the cases mentioned above, then we can see that it only encouraged the judicial branch to be more of a supportive team player within the authoritarian regime the Party has created, and that trials cannot be considered independent or the place to resolve injustices in society.

This means that people, such as wrongful death-row inmate Ho Duy Hai, a peasant who was tried and convicted for fighting for his land as was Le Dinh Chuc of Dong Tam Village, or those political dissidents like Pham Chi Dung and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who have almost no chance to plead for justice.

Nguyen Hoa Binh was directly involved in the cassation trial of Ho Duy Hai in May 2020, and he was the person who continuously insisted that Ho Duy Hai was guilty, despite all the evidence that Hai’s attorney presented in court. Nguyen Hoa Binh was the center of widespread public criticism during the cassation trial, but he was still promoted by the VCP. 

The rise of Chief Justice Binh only proves that the Party is willing to disregard public opinion in order to keep its political power. Now, with his promotion, activists who are involved with the democracy movement in Vietnam may suffer more consequences. With this new position that makes him more powerful than before, Binh may begin to punish those who once made him lose face by criticizing him in public.

It is true that the fact that Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh was elevated to the Politburo may slightly enhance the status of the judicial branch in Vietnam’s political system. However, that doesn’t mean that the courts in Vietnam will be fairer and more independent. If Nguyen Hoa Binh’s promotion means anything, it is that the courts will act more like the powerful tools of the VCP so that the Party can continue to strengthen its one-party political power in the country.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on February 2, 2021. The translation was done by Jade NG.

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Vietnam’s 13th Party Congress: Women Have No Place In Politics

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The 13th Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee. Photo courtesy: Zing.vn.

This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on February 3, 2021. The translation was done by Ha Thanh.

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Only 9.5 percent of the members of the Central Committee of theVietnamese Communist Party (VCP) are women, or just 19 out of 200 members. Of these, 18 women are official members and one is an alternate member.

What do these numbers tell us?

Let’s take a look at some other numbers first. 

In the Politburo (the Party’s most powerful body), only one member out of 18 is a woman, Truong Thi Mai. Mai is currently the head of the Central Mass Mobilization Department of the Central Committee, a not-so-important organ of the Party. Also, it is expected that Mai probably will not hold any important position in the next five years.

Among the new five members of the Secretariat – the body assisting the Politburo – one is a woman. Her name is Bui Thi Minh Hoai. Yes, while it is true that the Politburo could send more members to this body in the future, even if it does, it can only add one more woman, which would be its only female member, Truong Thi Mai.

Compared to the 12th Party Congress, the number of female members in the Party’s Central Committee has fallen by one person, and the number of female Politburo members has decreased by two.

None of the female Central Committee members of the 13th session may possibly hold key positions in the Party or the State. In the previous session, five years ago, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan became the chairwoman of Vietnam’s 12th National Assembly. Now, the “gang of four” or the “four pillars,” will just be made up of males.

However, if we look at the (arguably) equivalent of the VCP’s Central Committee, which is the National Assembly, we see a different picture.

The percentage of women in the National Assembly over the past 10 years has often been around 25 percent. Now, it is close to 27 percent, which is a lot higher if we compare it to the number of females in the Central Committee. Furthermore, this gender ratio is expected to remain unchanged in the National Assembly election in May 2021.

In 2018, Vietnam was among the top three countries in Southeast Asia with the highest proportion of women in its Congress, along with Laos (28 percent) and the Philippines (28 percent).

In the world, the percentage of female delegates in Vietnam’s Congress is even higher than the United States (23 percent), the Czech Republic (23 percent), South Korea (19 percent), Hungary (12 percent), Japan (10 percent), and even exceeds the global average of 25 percent.

Isn’t that great news? Unfortunately, the answer is No. 

It is because the National Assembly is of little significance in Vietnam. Every Vietnamese citizen acknowledges the fact that our Congress has no real authority. It is nothing more than the place that rubber stamps the Politburo’s and the Party Central Committee’s decisions.

In Vietnamese, people usually call the National Assembly the agency of “puppets” where its delegates just nod and approve Party decisions.

Real political power only rests in the VCP and its committees.

The Politburo is a gathering of about 20 of the most powerful Party members. However, the Central Committee is also becoming increasingly powerful, and we could say it has become the main power center within the Party. Obtaining a position within the Central Committee is one of the key goals of any serious and ambitious Vietnamese Communist politician. Failure to enter the “Central” (the word commonly used to refer to the Central Committee) is often regarded as the end of a Party member’s political life because he or she would be one of the voices that carries no authority.

The fact that women only make up less than 10 percent of the Central Committee, therefore, can be considered as a reflection of their actual position in Vietnam’s politics.

Of course, the proportion of female politicians in the localities may be higher. However, for an authoritarian regime with only one political party like Vietnam, where the central government dominates almost every aspect of society, being a part of the Central Committee gives its members actual political authority.

Why is the proportion of women in politics in Vietnam so low?

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National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan presents flowers to the Standing Committee of the Central Presidium of the Vietnam Women’s Union. Photo courtesy: Ministry of Home Affairs.

Gender stereotypes are considered to be a major barrier to climbing the political ladder in Vietnam. Research by Oxfam shows that all genders in Vietnam prefer male leaders. To them, men are viewed as more suited for leadership roles, and also have the masculine qualities that are also believed  to be the necessary qualities of a good leader.

In spite of all the good rhetoric about fairness and gender equality promoted by the VCP propaganda machine, and despite its putting on a seemingly pretty face on the proportion of women in politics, Vietnam, in fact, is still almost exclusively dominated by men.

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Is The VCP “More Democratic” Than The CCP?

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Photo courtesy: AFP/ Luật Khoa Magazine

This article was written in Vietnamese by Bui Cong Truc and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on January 20, 2021. The translation was done by Luu Ly.

* * *

How is the VCP “more democratic” than the CCP?

Most of the active communist parties today are more or less based on the Soviet Communist Party model.

The system originated with the majority power of the Party National Congress. This congress elects a minority group called the Communist Party Central Executive Committee (the Central Committee, for short).

Theoretically, the Central Committee is the governing body that decides most of the important issues in terms of policies and personnel in the Communist Party organization. However, the organs elected by this body have certain privileges, and can completely surpass the power of the Central Committee itself, depending on the time period.

These agencies include the Political Bureau (aka the Politburo), the Secretariats, or a typical body of the Soviet Union Communist Party, the Organizational Bureau.

So are the power structures of both Communist parties similar? How has the individual history of each party, the Chinese Communist Party of China (CCP) and the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), affected each country’s economic and social development? This article will  provide readers with more information about the fundamental differences between these two Communist brothers.

Two leaders of the two Communist parties, Xi Jinping and Nguyen Phu Trong. Photo taken during Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to China in 2017. Photo: Xinhua News Agency.

Conflicts between the Central Committee and the Politburo

Many people accept, as common sense, that the Politburo is the central power for both the VCP and the CCP. However, the party rules of these two brothers have many differences.

The first notable point is that the Central Committee of the CCP has only been  required to meet once a year since Deng Xiaoping reformed and re-institutionalized the political apparatus. Many Chinese observers assert that this was an intentional effort to limit the frequency of the CCP Central Committee’s meetings so that the authority of the body would be reduced as much as possible.

The pressure to democratize within this Party is not insignificant and not recent, but for many reasons, these proposals have been unsuccessful. Arguably, the CCP’s Central Committee only plays a behind-the-scenes role, compared to the main playerr, the Politburo.

Regulations in Vietnam are different. According to Article 16 of the VCP Charter, the Central Committee of the Party must meet at least twice a year.

The fact that the Central Committee of the VCP meets more than once a year does not seem to say much about the different power structures of the two parties. However, in reality, the most important issues require a decision of this body. If we compare the total number of meetings and resolutions of the Party’s central organs in the two countries, especially since Deng Xiaoping’s faction took power, the VCP’s Central Committee has twice as many meetings as its Chinese counterpart.

For example, only in 2016 did the VCP Central Committee convene the conference four times, with important contents including redefining the working regulations of the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Secretariats; the working regulations of the Central Inspection Committee; regulations on the implementation of the Party Charter; and the regulations on the inspection, supervision and discipline of the Party. These were all important meetings to help Nguyen Phu Trong’s political coalition gain the upper hand. Once he was the leader of the control group within the VCP, his famous “anti-corruption” campaign followed and it has been the most controversial issue in Vietnam in  recent years.

Another feature that is also noticed by many international commentators when comparing the two parties is the number of times that resolutions of a party’s central body are referred to in official legal documents.

According to statistics cited by three experts, Regina Abrami (Harvard), Edmund Malesky (Chicago), and Yu Zheng (Connecticut), the percentage of legal normative documents promulgated by competent state agencies that cited Central Committee resolutions by the VCP Central Committee was quite high, averaging 23 percent. Meanwhile, this rate in China was only 5.5 percent.

This statistic shows the direct influence of the VCP’s Central Committee on the policy making process. The difference of more than 17 percentage points is also an indication that the VCP’s Central Committee plays a greater role than its Chinese counterpart, at least on a legislative basis.

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This table compares the powers of the CCP and VCP Central Committees through two criteria: the number of meetings and the proportion of legal documents that quote the agency’s resolutions (Abrami, Malesky, & Zheng, 2008).

The differences in the real power of the Central Committee of the CCP and the VCP are not limited to the numbers. In some specific political events, the power of the VCP’s Central Committee is also more clearly shown.

For example, in 1997, when General Secretary Do Muoi decided to retire before the end of his term, his replacement Le Kha Phieu, was selected after an unusual meeting of the entire Central Committee.

This approach is in stark contrast to the cases of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in China. Finding replacements for these two to take the seat of general secretary was a private matter decided in Politburo secret meetings. In these meetings, there were also many retired “revolutionary elders” who did not have a role in deciding the next generation of leaders, according to the Party Charter.

Not only that, in 2001, the Central Committee of the VCP even vetoed the Politburo’s request to allow Le Kha Phieu to continue holding the position of general secretary. Instead, the Central Committee elected Nong Duc Manh, who was the president of Vietnamese National Assembly at that time, to fill the most powerful seat.

In 2006, former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet also wrote an open letter to the Politburo requesting it to respect collective intelligence and the democratic decision of the Party’s Central Committee, and not make the Politburo the “superior” body.

On the Chinese side, there has never been any case where the Central Committee directly and flatly opposed a proposal by the Politburo.

So far, many people have questioned whether the VCP’s Central Committee still has real power over the Politburo, as well as if it has followed in the footsteps of it’s elder brother in the north.

There is still reason to believe that the traditional competition between the 176 members representing various factions and schools within the Central Committee of the Communist Party still exists.

The historical path of the two political parties

So what is the reason for the difference between the VCP and the CCP? Many scholars often point to the history of the two political parties.

For China, although Mao Zedong was seen as the CCP’s supreme leader for a long time, the power rivalry between factions within the party remained fierce, until Deng Xiaoping restored order according to his wishes.

First, the policies of political and economic reform after the dire consequences left behind by Mao were enacted from the top down, and specifically from the Politburo. In a time when the Party’s political bodies were mostly ragged and lost across China, the top-down orientation seemed to make things easier to manage. This increased the legitimacy of a few powerful individuals in the Politburo.

Not only that, but the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 created more controversy between the groups of “hard players” and “soft players” towards the protesters. The controversy further fueled the desire of Deng Xiaoping and the elites to concentrate more power, and to limit the mass discussions, of the Central Committee – which they saw as an impediment to the process of fast decision making and effective policy enforcement.

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Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in 1959. Photo: Kyodo News/ Associated Press.

With Deng Xiaoping officially succeeding in selecting the general secretary without the consent of the Party’s Central Committee (a serious violation of the Party’s Charter), the few minorities in China gradually took control of political power.

Since 1989, the three positions of the troika in the power structure of the socialist state of China have been the general secretary of the Communist Party, president of the State, and chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, all traditionally held by one person, which have been Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and now Xi Jinping respectively.

Prior to the 7th Party Congress in 1991, it can be said that the troika model in Vietnam was not much different from the Soviet Union. The general secretary had a central position in the Party with an important influence on its political policy and direction, while the chairperson of the Council of Ministers was the head of the executive branch with the obligation to enforce and guarantee the Party’s orientation. And finally, there was the president of the State, but that position often just has a symbolic meaning.

However, the three titles of general secretary, prime minister, and president are the real “three-pillars” of power in the contemporary Vietnamese political apparatus.

What happened?

Some researchers point out that after the period of bad experiments with macroeconomic and microeconomic policies, chaos emerged in Vietnam’s society. Some senior leaders within the Party, such as Nguyen Van Linh and Vo Van Kiet, wished to promote more key reforms to revitalize Vietnam. One of the first things they did was to diversify and turn the Central Committee into a more authoritative institution, which they hoped in the future would be the point of consensus for the new reforms they proposed.

Their first success was the  increase in the number of members of this body. Starting in 1986, during the 6th National Congress, leaders in the Party’s provincial committees began to be elected to the Central Committee, thereby displaying a large force supporting economic and political reforms.

By the 7th Congress, Vo Van Kiet successfully persuaded the Party to allow local representatives to get nominated and elected as official members of the Central Committee. With that change, the voting power of local leaders was strengthened, making them  a majority group within the Party. 

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Vo Van Kiet, who was the advocate of empowering the Party’s Central Committee. Photo courtesy: VNA.

Obviously, the reformists’ wishes could only be fulfilled quite smoothly after the remaining four symbols of the Communist Party’s anti-colonial era, including Le Duan, Le Duc Tho, Pham Hung, and Truong Chinh, had passed away. After their deaths, the Party was left with a power vacuum, which created opportunities for the resurgence of the reform faction.

According to many studies, before the 7th Congress of the VCP, two factions arose and became rival forces in the Party.

The first group was made up of  former central leaders, or the Marx theorists, who had found a common voice under the leadership of general secretary Do Muoi.

The second group, as previously mentioned, was the technocratic leaders, who tended to modernize and came from the grassroots level, such as Vo Van Kiet and his ally in the south, Phan Van Khai.

By 1990, another group wanted to participate in defining the power model, and it was led by Le Duc Anh. Le Duc Anh was the commander-in-chief of the Vietnamese armed forces on the Cambodian battlefield, and he had just returned home. He wanted to strengthen the military’s role in governance, and he favored economic reform, but he also wanted to control its pace.

During the 7th Congress, after these three groups compromised with one another, the VCP’s new tradition of power was formed. All three factions would have power and this was codified in the 1992 Constitution – which could be the most important outcome of the compromise. Do Muoi continued to hold the post of general secretary, Vo Van Kiet became prime minister and General Le Duc Anh succeeded to  the presidency.

* * *

In 1996, Le Kha Phieu was expecting to hold both the presidency and the position of general secretary, with a goal of unifying state power in a way that would be similar to China’s model. Nevertheless, this effort was unsuccessful. In 2018, when Nguyen Phu Trong concurrently held both of the aforementioned titles after President Tran Dai Quang died, people began to worry that a Chinese power structure model was being formed in Vietnam. That concern is not without foundation.

Besides, there is not enough information to significantly compare whether the Vietnamese “three-pillars” model or the Chinese “monopoly” model is better. Some scholars argued that decision-making through a majority of a large body – such as the Party’s Central Committee – would reduce extremization and give highly compromising decisions. However, some other experts would argue that these compromising decisions only showed the lack of a definite direction from the Party’s central authority. It could deem that the Party only served a few politicians’ self-interests, considering the one-party and authoritarian political environment in Vietnam.

When we examine whether the VCP or CCP can be deemed more “democratic,” it must be pointed out that neither system includes “the people” in their decision-making process. The members in both of these parties are still more concerned with their own power within their respective parties. 

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