10. Ho Chi Minh City’s Post-1975 Political Elite: Continuity and Change in Background and Belief

From: Beyond Hanoi

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Ho Chi Minh City’s Post-1975 Political Elite 259© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore 10 Ho Chi Minh City’s Post-1975 Political Elite: Continuity and Change in Background and Belief Martin Gainsborough In the field of Vietnam studies, Ho Chi Minh City’s association with reform is one of the more entrenched beliefs. Government officials, diplomats, business people, journalists and academics have all at one time or another laid the reformist label at the city’s door. Ho Chi Minh City is associated with reform, and its leaders are referred to as “reformers” and “technocrats”.1 However, there are many problems with the use of such terms. The first is that they are rarely defined, leaving one to gauge their implicit meaning. “Reformer” is usually taken to imply “greater support for the market” or perhaps support for “the rule of law”. Reformers are also not generally regarded as corrupt.2 Amid this vagueness and questionable logic, one suspects there is a tendency — possibly unconscious — to equate reformer with neo-liberal.3 The term “technocrat” is also rarely defined although it traditionally implies some kind of specialist, with higher education credentials. Less explicitly, it also assumes the elevation of technical criteria over political ones in decision-making. Both are major claims. Reproduced from Beyond Hanoi: Local Government in Vietnam, edited by Benedict J Tria Kerkvliet and David G Marr (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2004). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at 260 Martin Gainsborough© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore A second criticism of the use of the terms “reformer” and “technocrat” is simply that they represent a far too wooden and one-dimensional depiction of Ho Chi Minh City’s leadership over a period of more than twenty-five years. Over such a timeframe, we are clearly dealing with a large number of leaders, particularly if we include departmental (so) and district (quan) politicians. At the very least, the definition of what constitutes a reformer is likely to change over time. Thus, what Nguyen Van Linh or Mai Chi Tho considered reform is likely to be quite different from that of the current generation. While a full examination of the validity or otherwise of the terms “reformer” and “technocrat” is beyond the scope of this chapter, a critical approach to such terminology is prudent. What, for instance, is there about the background of Ho Chi Minh City’s post-1975 leadership, which would lead us to expect them to forge a novel and independent path compared with those in charge of the rest of the country? When looking at the background of the city’s political elite, it is evident that many of them fought for the liberation of their country from colonialism, and later sought to rise up the political ladder in a unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. These are people who are largely “of the system”. It may be that subsequent events led the city’s leaders to forge a new path. However, based on the material presented here, there is little to suggest that Ho Chi Minh City politicians would strive for reform. I will revisit some of these issues later in the chapter, particularly when looking at attitudes of city politicians towards the centre and when considering ways of qualifying the use of the term “technocrat”. The study is based on unpublished biographical data on Ho Chi Minh City’s political leaders extracted from newspaper reports, including one-off pieces of information as well as full biographies. Where relevant, the data is supplemented with more anecdotal and subjective evidence provided by informants as well as information taken from interviews, speeches, and other public statements of politicians. Most of the data was collected over a period of three years (1996–99) when I was resident in Ho Chi Minh City. However, it has been updated to take account of more recent changes. Aside from offering a clearer picture of who has actually run Ho Chi Minh City since 1975, close scrutiny of politicians’ biographical data offers a number of other benefits for students of politics. First, by comparing politicians’ career paths, we can gain insights into relationships Ho Chi Minh City’s Post-1975 Political Elite 261© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore between politicians, including...


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Subject Headings

  • Local government -- Vietnam.
  • Vietnam -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Decentralization in government -- Vietnam.
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