Vietnam News

The future of Vietnam’s anti-corruption drive

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The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) will convene its 13th Congress between 25 January and 2 February 2021, selecting the nation’s next general secretary.

The General Secretary chairs the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (CSCAC), a mechanism that is placed under direct control of the CPV Politburo, and has the duty to ‘direct, collaborate, inspect and promote anti-corruption efforts nationwide’. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has led the CSCAC for the last eight years but is expected to step down from all positions due to party rules on age and term limits. His successor will set the course for the future of Vietnam’s anti-corruption efforts.

Under Trong’s leadership, the anti-corruption campaign popularly known as ‘furnace blazing’ (dot lo) has had a significant impact on society. It began with Trong’s failed attempt to punish a member of the Politburo at a party conference in 2012. It was speculated that former prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung — who ran a patronage-style, rent-seeking government — was the member who survived Trong’s failed attempt. Since 2016, Trong has pushed forward the furnace blazing campaign to ‘clean and purify’ the party and a number of subsequent grand corruption cases have been investigated. Dozens of incumbent and former high-ranking government officials have been prosecuted and tried.

Trong praised the anti-corruption campaign for these new successes. According to Trong, more than 11,700 cases associated with corruption, official promotion and the economy have been investigated, prosecuted and brought to court for first-hearing trials, of which 1900 were corruption cases involving 1400 persons. More than 800 cases involved all three levels of the anti-corruption institutional hierarchy: CSCAC, the Central Commission for Internal Affairs, and provincial and sectoral party committees. Of these, CSCAC monitored, supervised and gave direction to 133 cases, including 94 corruption and economic-wrongdoing cases of serious nature drawing public attention.

Criminal conviction was delivered on 88 corruption and economic wrongdoing cases involving 814 persons, including one incumbent member of the politburo, seven former and incumbent members of the central committee, four former and incumbent ministers, and seven military and police generals.

COVID-19 did not reduce the heat on Trong’s campaign in 2020. Two incumbent members of the CPV Politburo, Hoang Trung Hai and Nguyen Van Binh, and a member of the CPV Central Committee, Nguyen Duc Chung, were disciplined and reprimanded. Trong has further stated that the congress is ‘a chance to sort out and purge cadres’.

Trong has the responsibility to ‘prepare’ his successor and is able to influence the choice of who will replace him. There is an expectation that his successor will be ethically clean (trong sach ve dao duc), loyal to Marxism–Leninism and persistently committed to party discipline. The candidate must also continue with Trong’s furnace blazing legacy.

The two leading candidates are Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and executive member of the secretariat Tran Quoc Vuong. While Phuc has an impressive record promoting economic growth and entrepreneurship, the party chief post itself has never favoured his ascendency. Phuc’s career biography also indicates that he is more attached to the executive than the party branch. Still, Phuc has constantly emphasised anti-corruption when attending the end-of-year review meetings of government agencies.

Vuong was the previous chairperson of the Central Commission for Inspection (CCI), which plays a key role in recommending the Politburo to discipline party members. Dinh La Thang, the former member of the Politburo and the party chief of Ho Chi Minh City, was arrested and charged for corruption and expelled from the party when Vuong was head of the CCI. Consequently, Vuong made many enemies in the process. But after nearly 10 years working with Trong in the party branch, Vuong has emerged as Trong’s perhaps favoured choice having also sat in the CSCAC since 2016.

The third but least likely candidate is the retiring Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich. Lich is a moderate and has worked as an assistant to Trong in the Central Commission for Military Work. Under his oversight of the Ministry of Defence, dozens of generals have been disciplined, prosecuted and expelled from the party. Before Lich, former military general Le Kha Phieu was elected party secretary general. This precedent makes Lich an acceptable alternative if either Phuc or Vuong do not win majority support in the central committee.

Trong may not be an absolute decision maker but he will undoubtedly cast his vote for the candidate, perhaps himself in an extraordinary and unlikely scenario, who will carry the ‘furnace blazing’ campaign forward after the 13th Congress. The mystery of Vietnam’s future leadership may be resolved this upcoming 15th plenary.

By Hai Hong Nguyen – East Asia Forum – January 12, 2021

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