With three Politburo members unable to fulfil their five-year terms due to health or legal issues and one more tipped to be the frontrunner as the next President, the upcoming plenum will be one to watch closely, as the appointment of new members to the Politburo will have important implications for Vietnam's political prospects.
The seventh plenum of the twelfth Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is scheduled to convene in May 2018. The plenum is expected to make major personnel decisions that will generate important implications for Vietnam’s political prospects, especially the thirteenth congress of the CPV to be held in 2021.
Among the most important personnel issues to be decided will be the new line-up of the Politburo, the Party’s top decision-making body. The twelfth CPV congress in 2016 elected a 19-strong Politburo, but since then three of them have faced either health or legal problems that prevent them from fulfilling their five-year term.
In May 2017, Mr Dinh La Thang, then Party Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City, was removed from the Politburo due to corruption and economic mismanagement allegations. Mr Thang has since been prosecuted and tried. In August 2017, the Party announced that senior Politburo member Dinh The Huynh, then standing member of the Party’s Secretariat, had to stop his stewardship due to ill health. Around the same time, reports also emerged about the poor health conditions of State President Tran Dai Quang, who disappeared from the public for an extended period of time, reportedly for medical treatment in Japan, before re-emerging ahead of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in November 2017. Due to his health problems, Mr Quang is likely to be replaced by the CPV at the forthcoming plenum.
The plenum is expected to make major personnel decisions that will generate important implications for Vietnam’s political prospects.
As such, at least three new members may be added to the Politburo next month. Currently, the most likely candidates are the five non-Politburo members of the Party’s Secretariat. They include Lieutenant General Luong Cuong (Head of the Political Department of the Vietnam People’s Army), Mr Nguyen Van Nen (Head of the CPV’s Central Office), Mr Nguyen Hoa Binh (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Mr Phan Dinh Trac (Head of the CPV’s Internal Affairs Commission), and Mr Nguyen Xuan Thang (Director of Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy). Among the five, Mr Nguyen Van Nen and Mr Phan Dinh Trac, as heads of central party office or commissions, may stand a good chance to be elected.
Another important issue to be decided will be the replacement of President Tran Dai Quang. Mr Nguyen Thien Nhan, currently Politburo member and Party Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City, is tipped to be the frontrunner for the position. If Mr Nhan is promoted, Mr Vo Van Thuong, who used to serve as Ho Chi Minh City’s Deputy Secretary, may leave his current position as Head of the CPV’s Propaganda and Education Commission to replace Mr Nhan as Ho Chi Minh City’s party chief. This will open the opportunity for Mr Nguyen Xuan Thang to be elected into the Politburo and take over the Party’s propaganda arm left by Mr Thuong.
Mr Nhan’s promotion may also have further implications for the CPV’s political prospects. Currently, Mr Tran Quoc Vuong, standing member of CPV Secretariat and Head of the Central Committee’s Inspectorate Commission, is seen as the strongest candidate to replace Mr Nguyen Phu Trong as the Party’s General Secretary in 2021. However, Mr Nhan’s promotion to the State President position means that he may be a potential challenger to Mr Vuong as the CPV General Secretary position is traditionally picked among the top four politicians of the previous term.
That said, it may still be too early to gauge the full implications of the coming reshuffle at the top of the CPV’s hierarchy. What is certain is that the CPV’s seventh plenum will be an important and interesting event worth watching closely.
Le Hong Hiep is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Vietnam Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.