restricted access Vietnam: A Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
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A Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

This chapter first provides an analysis of appointments and elections at the 11th National Congress of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP), which was the main event on the political stage in Vietnam in 2011. It is followed by a discussion of the revision of the Party Manifesto, the first revision in twenty years; the National Assembly elections; the major economic issues; and some foreign policy developments.

11th Party National Congress

Attended by 1,337 delegates who represented 3.6 million party members and 54,000 Party cells, the 11th Party National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was held from 12 to 19 January 2011.1 The Party National Congress is held once every five years and serves as the lighthouse of the Party in two senses. First, it passes the policies proposed by the Party leadership that are embodied in Party documents, such as the Political Report, and the Five Year Socio-Economic Plan. Second, an election for the top office holders of the Party for the next five years takes place.

Perhaps it is useful to understand how the Party leadership is elected and works. First, the Party National Congress elects a new Central Committee, which acts as the Party's policy-setting body in between the national congresses. Membership in the Central Committee comprises the elites among Party members; only the top officials of a particular ministry or sector (usually from Vice Minister and leaders of provinces and above in ranking) are nominated for election. The Central Committee would in turn elect a Political Bureau, and its top leader, the General Secretary. During its five-year term, the Central Committee meets twice [End Page 361] a year and approves policy plans and directions for the Political Bureau and the Government. Note that, as in past Congresses, the size of these institutions was determined by the previous Central Committee, and not by the new set of leaders to be elected.

For the 2011-16 term, the 10th (2006-11 term) Central Committee decided that the number of seats for the 11th Central Committee would be 200, comprising 175 full members and 25 alternate members.2 The number of Political Bureau seats was fixed to be between 14 and 17.3 Furthermore, the 10th Central Committee intended that at least one-third of the new Central Committee elected in 2011 would be first-time members of the Central Committee.4 There was also an age limit that required Political Bureau members to retire if they were beyond 65 years old at the time of election unless the Central Committee allowed them to continue, and new Central Committee members not to be more than 55 years old. For alternate members, the age ceiling was 45.5 Candidates were chosen according to several criteria, including their capabilities and regional representation. There were also other rather ambiguous criteria, such as past work performance, and whether the person was supported by the majority of Party members from the sector of the Ministry that was going to nominate him for a leadership position. For instance, the Defence Minister must receive the blessing of all armed forces' Party branches to be their representative to stand for election to the Political Bureau.

The list of nominees for election is churned out by institutions of the previous term, including the Central Committee under the guidance of an ad hoc Personnel Appointments Subcommittee (established by the VCP for the purpose of the Congress), the Party Commission for Organization and Personnel, and the Political Bureau. A list numbering to perhaps 500 nominees at the beginning of the process is usually whittled down to over two hundred by the time the previous Political Bureau is ready to present it as the ultimate list for the previous Central Committee to approve. From the 2006 10th Party National Congress, the delegation groups (organized based either on provinces or work sectors) were allowed to nominate extra candidates not included in the official list of the previous Central Committee. From the 11th Party Congress in 2011, individual party members were also allowed to self-nominate but nominees still had to be approved...