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Everything You Need To Know About Vietnam’s Central Committee Of The VCP

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The 13th Plenum Session of the Central Committee on October 2020. Photo courtesy: Nhat Bac/Thanh Tra newspaper

This article is based on Tran Ha Linh’s “Mọi điều bạn cần biết về Ban Chấp hành Trung ương Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam,” published in Luật Khoa Magazine, a sister publication of The Vietnamese, on January 28, 2021. The translation is done by Karie Nguyen.

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The Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) is a very powerful governing body of the VCP and it seems to be gaining more influence within the Party day by day.  

What is the Central Committee?

In a previous article, we explained  that the Party Congress is the highest governing body of the VCP according to its own charter. However, these congresses only happen every five years, and at some times in the past, they could actually be held at longer intervals. Then during the five years between the two congresses, which body will lead the VCP’s activities? 

That body would be the Central Committee. In other words, the Central Committee is the second most important body of the VCP.

Who are the members of the Central Committee?

The Central Committee gathers together all of the most powerful members of the VCP. There are about 180 official members (who have the right to cast votes) and approximately 20 alternative members (who do not have the right to vote). This is an approximation because these numbers fluctuate when some members are disciplined (as in the cases of Dinh La Thang, Nguyen Bac Son, and Truong Minh Tuan), or when some pass away (Tran Dai Quang). There are also some members  who resign during their terms for various reasons. 

Almost all of the secretaries of the provincial committees, some of the deputy secretaries of the major cities (such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), and the secretaries of significant departments (such as the central departments and state enterprises) get selected to the Party Congress to be members of the Central Committee (both of the official and alternative members). 

We also see the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, ministers, and some deputy ministers of the major ministries (such as the Ministry of Public Security or the Ministry of Defense) and directors join the Central Committee. 

Vietnam Television (VTV), the Voice of Vietnam (VOV), the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology all belong to the central government and have equal standing as the ministries. Therefore, the heads of these organizations can also become members of the Central Committee.

The National Assembly chairperson, vice-chairperson, and the commissioners of all committees are all included on the Central Committee. There may even be deputy commissioners of some committees participating in the Central Committee. 

The prosecutor general and deputy prosecutor general of the People’s Supreme Procuracy along with the chief justice and deputy justice of the People’s Supreme Court also participate as members of the Central Committee. The leaders of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, the Vietnam Farmer’s Union, and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, etc. are also members of the Central Committee.

Of course, the members of the Politburo (including the VCP general secretary), and the Secretariat, the heads and deputies of the VCP departments, are all members of the Central Committee.   

Who elects the members of the Central Committee?

New members of the Central Committee are elected during the Party Congress. Almost all of the new members will be nominated before the congress by the former Central Committee. It is very rare to see any members of the Central Committee get elected if they are not nominated in advance by the Central Committee. Being nominated at the Party Congress or by their self-nomination would not help them get elected. 

In the time period between the two Party Congresses, the Central Committee may also elect more official members from its own alternative members group. 

What are the roles of the Central Committee?

Because it is acting as the VCP’s main stage, the Central Committee can do the following:

  • Elect the members of the Politburo, the general secretary, the members and the Standing Secretary of the Secretariat, and the members and the commissioner of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection. These are the most important and powerful departments of the VCP. 
  • Organize to implement the political platforms of the VCP, the VCP’s charter, the resolutions of the Party congresses, and decisions regarding both foreign and internal affairs. It also focuses on the VCP’s mass mobilization and constructing the VCP’s organizational development, as well as summoning the Party Congress.

How often does the Central Committee hold its plenary sessions?

According to the VCP’s charter, the Central Committee will meet every six months, but it can meet more often if it is necessary. The meetings are officially called plenary sessions. If these sessions are held twice a year, then during the five years between the VCP congresses there will have been 10 meetings. However, in recent history, the Central Committee has held between 12-15 sessions, and there were years when they met four times a year, as in 2011, 2015, and 2016. 

It is not a coincidence that the plenary sessions always met before the National Assembly had its sessions. Before the National Assembly conducts its session, there must be a Central Committee plenary session. In that plenary session, the Central Committee, together with Politburo meetings, will not only decide the National Assembly’s agenda, but also the decisions that the National Assembly will make during its session. Of course, the sessions of the National Assembly will not always be conducted as planned by the Central Committee’s original decision. In 2018, the National Assembly was pressured by the public to halt the law on the creation of the three Special Economic Zones. That halt has continued to date and that decision was not something the Central Committee could have expected.

The first plenary session of a new term of the Central Committee begins during the Party Congress to elect the members of the Politburo, the general secretary, and a few other positions. The Party Congress will end on the next day after the Central Committee finishes its first plenary session and the new leaders of the VCP will be introduced during that final day.

Are the plenary sessions of the Central Committee open to the public?

No.

Even at the National Assembly, which is the nation’s elected legislative body, the Vietnamese people are prevented from attending and observing its sessions. Thus, the plenary sessions of the Central Committee – one of the top governing bodies of the VCP – are not open to the public.

The plenary sessions are conducted in the conference hall of the Office of the Party Central Committee located at No. 1, Hung Vuong Street, Hanoi, at Ba Dinh Square, the site of many historical events, and where Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.

Only representatives of a few of the special mouthpieces of the government – such as Vietnam Television, the Voice of Vietnam, the Vietnam News Agency, Nhan Dan (The People) newspaper, the VCP online newspaper, and the government’s online newspaper, are allowed to attend. However, these organizations only report on the commencement and the conclusion of these sessions. Everything else is kept secret.

After the plenary session concludes, the Office of the Central Committee will announce the results of the meeting at a news conference. 

Does the Central Committee have actual power?

Yes.

Before Party Congress V (in 1982), the Central Committee had an insignificant role when compared to the Politburo. For example, the third Central Committee was active from 1960 to 1976 for a total of 16 years. Nevertheless, it only conducted 19 plenary sessions. All of the major decisions during those years came from the Politburo and the Party’s Central Military Commission. 

However, starting with its fifth term, and especially the sixth term, the Central Committee conducted more plenary sessions, having at least two sessions per year. During these sessions, the Committee decided and implemented more important policies with regards to the operation of the VCP.

One reasonable explanation for this was the decentralization of the VCP’s power over the years. 

Before, people like Ho Chi Minh, Le Duan, Le Duc Tho, Truong Chinh, all had extensive influence within the VCP. Perhaps, that was mainly because Vietnam was in a state of war. At that time, the Politburo and the Central Military Commission, and even just a few top leaders, would have enough authority and power to execute their decisions on their own. 

However, beginning in the early 1980’s, the group of the heroic individuals who specifically contributed to the VCP development got older and died and so the group lost its influence in the Party. 

More than that, when Vietnam began to live in a peaceful period, each local province came to have its own individual and unique problems. Therefore, the authority in the VCP had to be shared among the members of the Politburo and also with the local governments, and with other governmental enterprises as well. The decentralization of power in the VCP and also in the government meant that more authority was disbursed to local governments. 

At the same time, there were issues that the Politburo could not decide, and it passed those on to the Central Committee. During the XI term, we had the example of two Politburo members, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who conflicted with each other a lot during their terms. Their conflict couldn’t be resolved within the Politburo, so they brought it to the Central Committee’s floor. At the 2012 Central Committee’s 6th plenary session, there was a plan to review the prime minister’s responsibilities during his term. The prime minister ended up not being disciplined and was able to retain his position.

Even though the Central Committee possesses such significant power and has been gaining more control over the years, its agenda can still be dictated by the Politburo. In 2006, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet penned his letter to the Politburo, asking it to respect the decisions that came from the Central Committee and to quit acting as the higher-level, supervising department of the Committee.

Based on the VCP’s charter, the agenda and the nomination and election of all the positions in the Central Committee’s plenary sessions should be organized by the Politburo. However, it is still unclear which department has more power between these two most potent governing bodies of the VCP. 

We can only hope that with more research and analysis that we can better understand the organizational power of the VCP.

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Vietnam: How Powerful Is The Prime Minister?

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Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. Photo: quochoi.vn

Among the “four pillars,” the position of prime minister possesses both power and prestige.


In the spring of 2021, Vietnam has a new leader: Pham Minh Chinh, a former police intelligence officer and former head of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Organization Commission. On July 26, 2021, Pham Minh Chinh, once again, takes his oath to be the prime minister of Vietnam for the next 5 years.

One amongst “four pillars of the imperial court”

In the article “A few things you should know about Vietnam’s National Assembly chairmanship,” we wrote about the formation of the institutional division of power known as the “four pillars,” which includes the general secretary, the state president, the prime minister, and the chairman of the National Assembly.

If the state president and the chairman of the National Assembly, two among four of the most powerful positions in the Vietnamese Communist Party hierarchy, serve as primarily ceremonial positions, then the prime minister has both pomp and power, possessing broad authority in the governing system.

The prime ministership was once a position without any notable power. Before Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet’s term (1991-1997), previous prime ministers left a very little mark, except for Ho Chi Minh – who served as both state president and prime minister from 1946-1955.

Prime ministers after him, such as Pham Van Dong (1955-1987), Pham Hung (1987-1988), and Do Muoi (1988-1991), all served during periods where the government functioned according to the direction and management of the Party, rather than with tools of the executive branch. The same could be said during periods where Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan had overwhelming individual influence over the Party, causing other institutions and positions, including the prime ministership, to be subservient. 

In the 1980 Constitution, the government was called the Council of Ministers, with the prime minister position changed to the chairman of the Council of Ministers. This was an institution of collective leadership, with the powers of the chairman being minimal. With the 1992 Constitution, Vietnam reverted to the government mechanism in which the prime minister was head, concentrating greater power in his hands rather than practicing collective decision-making as in the past. Vo Van Kiet was the first prime minister to enjoy the new system under the 1992 Constitution.

With the depth and broadness of economic reform, the government’s role in managing national affairs grew by the day to more quickly, effectively, and dynamically respond to domestic and international developments. This increase in authority also served to more adequately address the increasing importance of foreign affairs in the age of globalization. The position of prime minister, thus, became extremely powerful. Nguyen Tan Dung (2006-2016) is seen as the most powerful prime minister ever and once competed fiercely for the position of general secretary. 

Who elects the prime minister?

Vietnam’s central government is modeled on the parliamentary system, with the central role (theoretically) held by the National Assembly. Constituents elect members of the National Assembly, and the National Assembly elects the government’s leadership figures, including the prime minister. (Obviously, everyone knows who actually “elects” the members of the National Assembly and the prime minister). The prime minister must be a member of the National Assembly.

Normally, electing the prime minister occurs during the first session of the new National Assembly term, after the general election, which occurs after the Party congress. In 2016, the procedure took an unusual turn: the National Assembly elected the new prime minister in the last meeting of its term in April, preceding the general election by more than a month. After the general election, the new National Assembly then repeated the election of the prime minister one more time. Nguyen Xuan Phuc was sworn into office twice in 2016. Pham Minh Chinh also had the same experience in 2021.

How powerful is the prime minister?

The prime minister’s powers are stipulated in Article 98 of the Constitution and Article 28 of the Law on Government Organization (ratified in 2015 and amended in 2019).

As head of state administration, this position has broad authority, from enforcing laws and organizing personnel to proposing and distributing the budget.

As a unitary state, the central government has overarching authority, with the prime minister’s power extending from the center all the way to the provinces and cities.

Outside his separate authority, the prime minister also has general authority over the collective decisions and resolutions of the cabinet.

For more details, please see the two documents described above. Here, we would like to list a few of the prime minister’s decision-making powers to demonstrate just how influential this position is in the economic sphere:

·      Regarding land: has the power to establish a council to assess land usage programs and plans at the national level; approves changes in land usage purposes on rice cultivation fields 10 hectares and above, protected and special-use forest land 20 hectares and above; decides the policy framework for compensation, support, and resettlement in special cases; decides price tables for province-level land in many cases; decides on several cases in which the usage rights for land the state allocates or leases are not auctioned.

·      Regarding investment: has the power to approve investment plans on the scale of airports, ports, oil and gas rigs, large urban areas, industrial zones, and export processing zones; approves investment plans overseas in banking, insurance, stocks, and telecommunications…from 400 billion dong and above, along with other projects involving capital of 800 billion dong and above.

Is prime minister the highest attainable position?

No. In the party power hierarchy, the general secretary remains at the top and is the most powerful position overall. 

There has never been a prime minister who has risen to become general secretary, except for Do Muoi, who was the chairman of the Council of Ministers. Nearly all served only one or two terms before retiring, except Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who served as prime minister and then stepped down to become state president, a much less powerful position. 

This article describes the power of the prime minister, but in actuality, we have only spoken of it in legal terms and in relation to the order of power in the party. The position’s power is also dependent on the individual’s level of influence within the party.

To put it another way, a leader’s power is the sum of his or her institutional power and individual sway. If the system bestows power but the individual leader doesn’t have the ability to wield it properly, then he does not have much power at all. Conversely, the system can bestow limited power, but an individual can exercise influence beyond his institutional limits. 


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on April 6, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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Vietnam’s State President: The Captain But Not Really A Captain

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State President of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In Vietnam, the position of state president is like that of a ship captain who completely got separated from the helm.


During his single term as the prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc became popular in the news for his words and promises to transform many provinces and cities in Vietnam into “captains,” from “economic captain” to “developmental captain.” Now, he himself has become the captain of Vietnam, as he accepted the position of state president – the legal head of state.

But like many other captains of years past, his position as the “captain” of Vietnam is not what it appears. Yes, he will work from No. 2 Hung Vuong Street in Hanoi’s old French palace that dates more than 100 years, where French governors-general and President Ho Chi Minh once sat, but he won’t have much real power. 

 “The four pillars” and the parliamentary system

The state president is normally drawn from the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party-normally, but not always. The exception is Ton Duc Thang, who succeeded Ho Chi Minh and served from 1969 to 1981. Ton Duc Thang was only a Party Central Committee member. 

In history, the most powerful state president of Vietnam was undoubtedly Ho Chi Minh, who held the position for more than 23 years, from 1946 until he died in 1969. During his years of greatest power, Ho Chi Minh also held the highest leadership position in the Communist Party and the position of prime minister until 1955. Between 1955 and 1960, Ho resigned as prime minister but held onto two other positions within the Party: party chairman and general secretary.

From 1960 onwards, Ho remained the party chairman and state president, but with the rise of Le Duan and his ascension to power, Ho Chi Minh was no longer the center of Vietnam’s political life. From then onwards, the role of state president slowly became largely ceremonial.

Ton Duc Thang, who was not elected into the Politburo, of course, held the position of state president, but he did not have much influence. His successor, Vo Chi Cong, on the other hand, was a member of the Politburo. But at the time, people didn’t call the position “State President,” but rather, “State Council President,” the council being an institution of collective leadership similar to the collective leadership structure of the Council of Ministers; this structure was originally borrowed from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and was incorporated wholesale into Vietnam’s 1980 Constitution. 

It was perhaps the next president, Le Duc Anh (1992-1997), who carved out a noteworthy role for the position of state president when he turned the role into an individual leadership position rather than a collective one. With his powerful influence derived from his time as defense minister, Le Duc Anh, along with General Secretary Do Muoi and Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, formed what journalist Huy Duc calls the “tripartite division of power.” At the time, the “four pillars” had yet to take shape clearly; it was not until the leadership transition in 1997 that this was established. 

In actuality, the designation “four pillars” refers to the order of power within the Party. At the same time, the position of the state president in a parliamentary system such as Vietnam’s is a formality that only carries ceremonial value rather than any real power.

What does it mean to be ceremonial?

The parliamentary system is special in that the person who leads the state (head of state) is not the head of the cabinet. For example, in nearly all European countries, the head of the cabinet is the prime minister, who is simultaneously the majority leader in parliament; the head of state is either the president or the king/queen. We can see that Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and the United Kingdom all have prime ministers as their central political leaders rather than presidents or kings/queens.

Vietnam is similar. The state president is the head of state, which according to its Constitution is “the person who leads the state, who represents the Socialist Republic of Vietnam domestically and in foreign affairs.” However, the person who leads the state administration is the prime minister, who possesses far-reaching power, as we have analyzed in the article “Vietnam: How powerful is the prime minister?”

The Constitution grants the state president a number of limited powers that do not appear lacking, but in practice, are quite lacking. These powers include promulgating the Constitution, laws, and decrees, abilities that very much resemble veto power over decrees; numerous powers that relate to proposals to the National Assembly to elect or remove individuals from the highest positions in government; and above all, power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

“Commander-in-chief”sounds enormously powerful. But the command of Vietnam’s armed forces has never laid with the state president; it actually lies with the Politburo and the Central Military Commission (CMC). In recent times, the secretary of the Central Military Committee has always been the Party general secretary, while the deputy minister of the CMC has been the minister of defense. The state president is simply a standing member of the CMC. Nguyen Phu Trong has been the only individual to hold both Party general secretary and state president positions while concurrently serving as the secretary of the CMC.  

Thus, the state president does not actually hold any guns. He doesn’t hold the purse strings either, because control of the treasury is held by the prime minister. The authority of the state president, then, lies in approving military promotions, bestowing awards and honors, and deciding on issues related to citizenship, reprieves, and diplomatic protocols, etc.

With limited powers, Vietnamese presidents after Ho Chi Minh have never fully exercised their powers on thorny issues, such as dismissing a number of high-ranking positions in the government and the military or vetoing an ordinance from the National Assembly’s Standing Committee.

Though it has transitioned from a collective leadership role (in the State Council) to an individualized one, the position of state president still represents the collective in announcing decisions and lacks the broad, active powers of the prime minister.

The real power of the state president perhaps lies in the fact that he has his feet in both the Politburo and the CMC. If it weren’t for this straddling, the state president would be merely a puppet. Thus, when examining the actual power of a Vietnamese political leader, it is not enough to look to the law; one must also look at his or her power within the Party and the individual influence he or she has.

Nguyen Xuan Phuc has bestowed the title of “captain” on many provinces and cities as his way to encourage them to develop and prosper, though perhaps these provincial and municipal leaders have yet to understand how they were called “captains.” Nguyen Xuan Phuc now has also assumed the position of head of the ship, but he is also no captain.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on April 7, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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A Few Things You Should Know About Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairpersonship

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Former National Assembly Chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, and Current Chairman, Vuong Dinh Hue. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine

Though it is one of the “four pillars” of the Vietnamese government, the National Assembly chairpersonship remains the weakest position.


Vietnam’s National Assembly has been preparing to change its window dressing in late March 2021. No need to wait until the general election wraps up in May 2021; the National Assembly chairmanship had a new occupant in the final days of March. To reaffirm that the election in May did not change Vietnam’s political situation, July 20, 2021 would mark Vuong Dinh Hue’s continuation to serve the same leadership position as the National Assembly chairman for the next 5 years when it re-elected him.

One amongst the “four pillars of the imperial court”

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Vietnamese politics slowly moved beyond the individual leadership model and the overpowering influence of Ho Chi Minh and his successor Le Duan. This, in combination with the economic reform process, led to the gradual development of a new institutional division of power. Over time, supreme power was divided among four positions: the general secretary, state president, prime minister, and chairperson of the National Assembly. 

Today, as war has receded into the distance and demands to join the international community grow, the political system functions have begun trending towards laws of the state rather than the directives of the Vietnamese Communist Party. As such, the National Assembly increasingly plays a larger and more dynamic role in the political system.

However, it wasn’t until 1992, when Nong Duc Manh was elected as National Assembly chairman, that a member of the Politburo occupied the position. Before that, Truong Chinh – a Politburo member – served as chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee from 1960 to 1981. Still, as stated above, the National Assembly did not play a large role during that time, though it’s hard to say that its role today is large either.

The National Assembly chairmen after Truong Chinh all worked their way up to become members of the Party Central Committee (such as Le Quang Dạo) or outside the Party Central Committee altogether (e.g., Nguyen Huu Tho).

All National Assembly chairmen from Nong Duc Manh onwards were members of the Politburo. Though its numbers are among the “four pillars,” the National Assembly chairmanship remains the weakest position and must abide by party decisions.

Launchpad to power

Of the five National Assembly chairmen since 1992, two have become general secretary of the VCP’s Central Committee – the highest position in the entire political system: Nong Duc Manh (2001 – 2011) and Nguyen Phu Trong (2011- present).

In stark contrast, the prime minister’s office has been unable to propel its occupant any further. One after the other, Vo Van Kiet, Phan Van Khai, and Nguyen Tan Dung became prime ministers and then retired, failing to make it to the general secretary. The exception is Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who, rather than retiring after serving as prime minister, is set to become state president; that is, he is taking one step down the ladder of party power.

Is the National Assembly chairman the “boss” of the National Assembly representatives? 

No. 

In principle, the National Assembly chairman is simply a member of the National Assembly, with all members being equal and everyone retaining one vote. No representative can force another representative to do his or her bidding. The National Assembly chairperson cannot issue any order to a representative, except for limited powers during work assignments with vice National Assembly chairpersons.

Then what does the National Assembly chairman do?

He or she mainly coordinates the activities of the National Assembly and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee, presiding over meetings and sessions and ratifying adopted constitutions, laws, resolutions, and ordinances.

For more details, please see Vietnam’s Constitution and the Law on National Assembly Organization.

The National Assembly chairman also usually acts as head of the National Electoral Council. This arrangement contains a conflict of interest when a representative (and often also a candidate) organizes elections. In democratic countries, the council must, in principle, be independent of the National Assembly.  

A position almost always reserved for men

Of the 11 National Assembly chairpersons in Vietnam’s modern history, the only woman to serve in this position was Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who held the position from 2016 to 2021. But truth be told, Ngan is the only woman to have ever served as one of the “four pillars.”

Her predicted successor, Vuong Dinh Hue, will carry on the near-exclusive tradition of men being at the helm of the National Assembly.

Hue has served as minister of finance (2011-2012), head of the Central Economic Committee (2012-2016), deputy prime minister (2016-2020), and secretary of the Hanoi party committee (2020-current). He has been a member of the Politburo since 2016.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on March 30, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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