January 20, 2011
Lines of division in Vietnam
By The Hanoist
Truong Tan Sang - Nguyen Phu Trong - Nguyen Tan Dung
The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has chosen to stay the course by selecting a Marxist ideologue as its new general secretary. Nguyen Phu Trong, a 67-year old former editor-in-chief of the Communist Review and current chairman of the communist-controlled National Assembly, was a compromise choice of the just-concluded 11th National Congress.
According to local observers, the two most powerful figures entering the conclave were Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and CPV standing secretary Truong Tan Sang. Dung has controlled the levers of government for the past five years and his policy of favoring large state-owned enterprises, which were placed under the remit of the prime minister’s office, gave him unprecedented control over the economy.
But he was also heavily criticized for backing a massive bauxite mining scheme in the Central Highlands region and mishandling Vinashin, the bankrupt state-owned shipping company with debts that reached 5% of gross domestic product (GDP). Sang has been in charge of the CPV on a day-to-day basis in a role akin to chief operating officer. He coordinated the party’s personnel, ideological and other key functions. Some Vietnam watchers believe Sang quietly nurtured the public criticisms against Dung. Continue reading
November 1, 2010
A revolt of sorts in Vietnam
By The Hanoist
Vietnam’s environmental movement, which rose up last year in opposition to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands, is back. Spurred into action by a toxic spill in Hungary on October 4, more than 2,000 people including many leading citizens have signed a new petition calling on the state to halt its US$15.6 billion plans and so avoid the risk of a similar catastrophe in Vietnam.
In early 2008, the Vietnamese government announced a plan to extract bauxite and process the ore into alumina, an intermediary step in producing aluminum. Critics pointed out the potential devastation to the ecologically sensitive Central Highlands – home to many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities and cash crops – and the risks of storing vast quantities of toxic sludge, a byproduct of processing alumina, upriver from the densely populated Mekong delta.
Vietnamese academics also questioned the economic cost-benefit due to the project’s large need for electricity, in short supply in the country, and the required construction of a 250 kilometer railway and dedicated port. The plan calls for the alumina, a relatively low-profit commodity, to be exported to a single market, China, leaving Vietnamese industry captive to a powerful buyer. Continue reading
July 6, 2010
Vietnam’s gravy train derailed
By The Hanoist
Exposing a growing rift in Vietnam’s one-party regime, the communist-controlled National Assembly has rejected the government’s US$56 billion plan to develop a high speed north-south railway. The project, set to cost 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and based on Japan’s cutting-edge Shinkansen technology, would have cut overland travel time from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (1,760 kilometers) from about two days to around six hours.
The government has recently initiated several mega-projects, but this one was surprisingly voted down by the assembly by a 178-157 vote on June 19. The unprecedented result does not mean that Vietnam’s legislature, traditionally a rubber stamp for Communist Party decisions, is evolving into an independent branch of government.
The National Assembly consists almost entirely of Communist Party members with just a few token independents. Convening for several weeks twice a year, its members tend to lack the expertise and attention to play an active political role. According to one well-placed source, the party’s 14-member politburo, the de facto highest power, declined to express a position on the railway project and passed the issue to the assembly instead. Continue reading