Vietnam’s Communist Party on Sunday reelected Nguyen Phu Trong to be its chief, the state Vietnam News Agency reported. His selection makes him the nation’s de facto leader as well for a third five-year term.
The vote at the 13th National Party Congress in Hanoi took place a day earlier than planned, as the meeting, scheduled to end Tuesday, was being shortened to lessen the threat from a coronavirus outbreak.
Vietnam is a single-party Communist state, so party leaders almost automatically assume leadership of the government, though debates can take place within the party’s bodies and the legislature. The 1,587 delegates at the congress were selected in a process that began at the party’s grassroots.
The newly elected 200-member Central Committee selected Trong as General Secretary and head of the 18-member Politburo, the highest-ranking party body.
The congress delegates elected the Central Committee, which then voted in the membership of the Politburo. The voting set the ranking of the Politburo members, which determines who gets the top four positions: the general secretary of the Communist Party, the country’s most powerful job; the president, a largely ceremonial post; the prime minister; and the National Assembly chairman. The jobs are known as the “four pillars.”
It was initially believed that Trong would not take the top job again, because of his shaky health and a rule mandating retirement at age. However, he received an exemption from that rule at the last congress in 2016, and evidently received it again.
Although the selection process is closely guarded by the historically secretive party, analysts believe Trong had favored a fellow Politburo member, Tran Quoc Vuong, to succeed him but sought to stay when his pick could not attract sufficient support from members of the Central Committee. There has been speculation that he will resign before serving a new full term if the Central Committee can reach a consensus on a successor.
The challenges facing Vietnam include long-term economic planning and dealing with pressure from neighboring China, which asserts claims over offshore territory in which Vietnam is seeking to develop oil and gas resources. Hanoi is expected to maintain a delicate balance of relations with Beijing and Washington to leverage U.S. power as a counterweight to the threat from China.
Vietnam under Trong has experienced healthy economic growth and been notable for containing the COVID-19 threat, to the extent that it was one of the world’s few major nations to register economic expansion last year.
Associated Press writer Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.