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Party Congresses

The Vietnam Communist Party (VNCP) defines the country’s national priorities. The convening of the VNCP National Congress every five years represents the conclusion of a lengthy process of drafting, debating, refining and articulating socioeconomic, developmental, foreign policy and defense and security goals, priorities, and plans that involves every level of the VNCP from the grassroots to the provincial and ministerial-level party committees. The documents that emerge from this long process of progressively higher level party debates and discussions represent the basis for National Assembly legislative plans and budgetary priorities. The process results in a Political Report to the National Congress, which sets the national policy course.

Although party congresses are rare events in Vietnam, they provide a record of the party's history and direction and tend to reflect accurately the important issues of their time. Vietnam is a highly stable and predictable political environment where sudden, arbitrary changes in foreign policy are unlikely. Vietnamese leaders like to do things incrementally, and so any moves are likely to be gradual. Traditionally, Party congresses in Vietnam are opportunities for changes in domestic issues like personnel or economic development policy, and changes in foreign policy are necessarily derivatives of those issues.

As stipulated in the party Statute, the National Party Congress (or National Congress of Party Delegates) is the party's highest organ. Because of its unwieldy size (the Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was attended by 1,129 delegates), the infrequency with which it meets (once every 5 years or when a special situation arises), and its de facto subordinate position to the party's Central Committee, which it elects, the National Party Congress lacks real power. In theory, the congress establishes party policy, but in actuality it functions as a rubber stamp for the policies of the Political Bureau, the Central Committee's decision-making body. The primary role of the National Party Congress is to provide a forum for reports on party programs since the last congress, to ratify party directives for the future, and to elect a Central Committee. Once these duties are performed, the congress adjourns, leaving the Central Committee, which has a term of five years, to implement the policies of the congress.

In February 1930 in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh presided over the founding congress of the VCP. At the direction of the Communist International ( Comintern--see Glossary), the party's name was changed shortly afterwards to the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The designated First National Party Congress following the party's founding was held secretly in Macao in 1935, coincidentally with the convocation in Moscow of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern.

At the Seventh Congress, the Comintern modified its "united front" strategy for world revolution chiefly to protect the Soviet Union from the rise of fascism. Member parties were instructed to join in popular fronts with noncommunist parties to preserve world socialism in the face of fascism's new threat. Although the Vietnamese party subsequently adopted the strategy, the timing of the two meetings dictated that the Vietnamese in Macao wait until after their meeting for directions from Moscow. Consequently, the resolutions enunciated at the ICP's first congress turned out to be only provisional because they stressed the older and narrower concept of the united front that divided the world into imperialist and socialist camps but failed to account for fascism. Under the new strategy, the ICP considered all nationalist parties in Indochina as potential allies.

The Second National Party Congress was held in 1951 in Tuyen Quang, a former province in the Viet Bac, a remote region of the North Vietnamese highlands controlled by the Viet Minh (see Glossary) during the First Indochina War (see Glossary--also known as the Viet Minh War). It reestablished the ICP, which had been officially dissolved in 1945 to obscure the party's communist affiliation, and renamed it the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam). Nine years later in Hanoi, the Third National Party Congress formalized the tasks required to construct a socialist society in the North and carrying out a revolution in the South.

The Fourth National Party Congress, which convened in December 1976, was the first such congress held after the country's reunification. Reflecting the party's sense of rebirth, the congress changed the party's name from the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet) to the Vietnam Communist Party. This congress was significant for disclosing the party's plans for a unified Vietnam and for initiating the party's most widespread leadership changes up to that time. The delegates adopted a new party Statute, replacing one that had been ratified in 1960 when the country was divided.

The new Statute was directed at the country as a whole but focused on the application of Marxist-Leninist principles in the South, stating that the party's goal was to "realize socialism and communism in Vietnam." It further described the VCP as the "vanguard, organized combat staff, and highest organization" of the Vietnamese working class, and a "united bloc of will and action" structured on the principle of democratic centralism. Democratic centralism is a fundamental organizational principle of the party, and, according to the 1976 Statute, it mandates not only the "activity and creativity" of all party organizations but also "guarantees the party's unity of will and action." As a result of unification, the Central Committee expanded from 77 to 133 members, the 11-member Political Bureau of the Central Committee grew to 17, including 3 alternate or candidate members, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee increased from 7 to 9. More than half of the members of the Central Committee were first-time appointees, many of whom came from the southern provinces.

Membership in the party doubled from 760,000 in 1966 to 1,553,500 in 1976, representing 3.1 percent of the total population. Comparable figures for China (4.2 percent) and the Soviet Union (6.9 percent) in 1986 suggest that the 1976 proportion of party membership to total population in Vietnam was small. Nevertheless, the doubling of the party's size in the space of a decade was cause for concern to Vietnam's leaders, who feared that a decline in the party's selection standards had resulted in increased inefficiency and corruption. They believed that quantity had been substituted for quality and resolved to stress quality in the future. In an effort to purify the party, growth over the next decade was deliberately checked. Membership in 1986 was close to 2 million, only about 3.3 percent of the population. According to Hanoi's estimates, nearly 10 percent, or 200,000 party members, were expelled for alleged inefficiency, corruption, or other failures between 1976 and 1986.

Turning to the economy, the Fourth National Party Congress transferred the party's emphasis on heavy industry, initiated at the Third National Party Congress, to light industry, fishing, forestry, and agriculture. It directed attention to the Second Five-Year Plan, which was already a year old. The Fourth National Party Congress also introduced a number of economic objectives, including establishment on a national scale of a new system of economic management, better use of prices to regulate supply and demand, budgets to implement economic development programs, tax policy to control sources of income, and banks to supply capital for production. Finally, differences over the role of the military surfaced at the congress, dividing party pragmatists, who saw the army as a supplement to the labor force, from the more doctrinaire theoreticians, who saw the military as a fighting force, the primary mission of which would be obstructed by economic tasks.

The Fifth National Party Congress, held in March 1982, confirmed Vietnam's alignment with the Soviet Union but revealed a breach in party unity and indecision on economic policy. An unprecedented six members of the Political Bureau were retired, including Vo Nguyen Giap, defense minister and former chief military strategist in the wars against France and the United States, and Nguyen Van Linh, future party general secretary who later returned to the Political Bureau in June 1985. The six who departed, however, were from the middle ranks of the Political Bureau. The topmost leaders--from General Secretary Le Duan to fifth-ranked member Le Duc Tho--remained in their posts. Thirty- four full members and twelve alternate members of the Central Committee also were dropped. The new Central Committee was increased from 133 members and 32 alternate members to 152 members and 36 alternate members. Party strength had grown to 1.7 million.

The Sixth National Party Congress, held in December 1986, was characterized by candid evaluations of the party and more leadership changes. There was an extraordinary outpouring of self-criticism over the party's failure to improve the economy. A new commitment was made to revive the economy but in a more moderate manner. The policy of the Sixth National Party Congress thus attempted to balance the positions of radicals, who urged a quicker transition to socialism through collectivization, and moderates, who urged increased reliance on free-market forces. The "doi moi" (renovation) policy, which the Party adopted at its 6th Congress in December 1986, denounced political pluralism but accepted extensive pluralism in economic fields. This striking contradiction between political conservatism and economic pragmatism differed basically from Gorbachev's perestroika, while sharing common features with China's reform policy.

Three of the country's top leaders voluntarily retired from their party positions: VCP General Secretary and President Truong Chinh, aged seventy-nine; second-ranked Political Bureau member and Premier Pham Van Dong, aged seventy-nine; and party theoretician and fourth-ranked Political Bureau member (without government portfolio) Le Duc Tho, aged seventy-five. Afterwards, they took up positions as advisers, with unspecified powers, to the Central Committee. Chinh and Dong retained their government posts until the new National Assembly met in June 1987. Their simultaneous retirement was unusual in that leaders of Communist nations tended either to die in office or to be purged, but it paved the way for younger, better educated leaders to rise to the top.

Nguyen Van Linh, an economic pragmatist, was named party general secretary. The new Political Bureau had 14 members, and the new Central Committee was expanded to 173, including 124 full members and 49 alternate members. In continuing the trend to purify party ranks by replacing old members, the Sixth Party Congress replaced approximately one-third of the Central Committee members with thirty-eight new full members and forty- three new alternate members. It expanded the Secretariat from ten members to thirteen, only three of whom had previously served.

The 7th Party Congress, held in June 1991, was significant in that the party reconfirmed the continuation of this policy and for the fact that it decided on a new central leadership which would ensure its more effective implementation. The Political Platform adopted at the 7th Party Congress made no reference either to the Soviet Union or to China. It only stated that "Vietnam shall strengthen and develop traditional friendship and cooperative relationships with socialist countries and brotherly states in the Indochinese Peninsula." Foreign Minister Thach, a realist, lot his position in the Politburo and was not renominated by the National Assembly who had met after the Party Congress.

Before the 7th Party Congress, Vietnam had a similar organizational structure to the Chinese Model. The Secretary General was the predominant center of authority; the Chairman of the Council of Ministers administered the bureaucracy; and the Chairman of the State Council held primarily ceremonial responsibilities. This architecture was revised, however, as part of a compromise arrived at during the 7th Congress. The so-called conservatives were opposed by a group of modernizers / technocrats led by Vo Van Kiet and his Southern protégé Phan Van Khai, who pushed hard for further opening to the international economy and bolstering of the domestic private sector. A third group strongly advocated a reassertion of the role of the military in politics and slowdown in the economic reforms, which were destabilizing society.

At the 1991 Party Congress, a compromise was reached – the three sides would all be institutionalized with cross-cutting powers in the 1992 Vietnamese Constitution. The Secretary General as the head of the Party has ultimate authority on the overall direction of policy. But the constitution grants him no legislative or executive role. According to Chapter 7 of the 1992 Vietnamese Constitution, the President possesses overall command of the Vietnamese military forces11, has the power to appoint ambassadors and sign international treaties, and can introduce legislation before the National Assembly. The Prime Minister is granted legislative power including the ability to present draft laws and decrees for vote in the National Assembly.

At the time of the 8th Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) in 1996, Vietnam appeared set to join the ranks of Asian Tiger and Dragon economies. A broad economic reform program implemented in several steps after the 6th Party Congress in 1986 had decentralized decision making and replaced central planning with markets and prices in much of the Vietnamese economy. The responses to the gradual liberalization of the economy had been predictably strong. The 8th Party Congress held in 1996 identified four threats, which include lagging further behind economically compared with other countries in the region and the world, departure from socialism, corruption and bureaucracy, and peaceful evolution pursued by hostile forces. These threats still exist with complex developments, which are intertwined and inter-related.

Ahead of the 8th Party Congress in 1996, frictions spilled into the economic arena when anti-foreign sentiments sparked a campaign against foreign logos and advertising. In a dramatic move, local officials in Hanoi swept through city streets and painted over billboards and offending advertising signs. Efforts were also made to restrict further the operations of foreign representative offices.

As part of a major generational change in senior communist party ranks, moderate Nong Duc Manh was officially installed as Vietnam's senior leader 23 April 2001 at the close of the Ninth Party Congress. As expected, National Assembly chief Manh replaced the strongly ideological Le Kha Phieu. Only the sixth communist party leader in six decades, Manh was the first without revolutionary or wartime work experience, the first with a university degree, and the first ethnic minority. Coupled with the abolition of all party senior advisor positions, the retirement of aging conservatives in the politburo, a drastically reduced leadership profile for the military, and the establishment of a streamlined secretariat to promote efficiency, Manh's elevation may well provide a much-needed boost for the economic reform agenda. Prime minister Khai was now joined in the top ranks by fellow southern reformers Triet and Dung, who were promoted to fourth and fifth in the leadership, signaling they were his heirs in waiting. Another positive signal was that reformist trade minister Vu Khoan, was to act as virtual "politburo chief of staff" working on the new secretariat. Though conservative interests still were represented in the leadership, their profile was much lower. Election of this leadership was a major victory for reformers in the central committee.

Under the theme of "Improving the leadership capacity and combativeness of the Party, promoting the whole nation’s strength and comprehensively accelerate reforming, quickly leading the country out of the underdeveloped status," the 10th National Party Congress of Viet Nam opened at the Ba Dinh Hall in Ha Noi on 18 April 2006, with the participation of 1,176 delegates. The Congress discussed and adopted many important documents, including the Political Report; the Report and Five-year Plan of Action on Socio-economic Development Goals for 2006-2010; the Report on Party Building and the (amended and revised) Party Rules. The Congress elected a new Party Central Committee.

At the 10th National Party Congress, many members of the Party Central Committee, the Political Bureau and the Party Central Committee Secretariat of the 9th tenure, did not stand for re-election to the 10th Party Central Committee, paving the way to rejuvenate the Party’s leadership in the new tenure. The 10th National Congress session in April 2006 saw a meritocratic approach to personnel selection in the aim of prioritizing reforms. There appears to be a high degree of faith in the current administration, led by Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, President Nguyen Minh Triet, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

The VNCP 11th National Congress convened in Hanoi from 12-19 January 2011 to review and adopt key documents (including the Political Report) and to elect a new Politburo and Central Committee. This congress, adhering to basic protocols and restating the centrality of ideological issues, was far more conservative than some of its predecessors.

The 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) opened at the My Dinh National Convention Centre in Hanoi on 12 January 2011. The congress was themed “Continuing enhancing the Party’s leadership capacity and combativeness, promoting the nation’s synergy, comprehensively boosting the Doi Moi (renewal) process, creating the fundamentals for Vietnam to basically become a modern-oriented industrial country by 2020”. It was attended by 1,377 delegates representing more than 3.6 million Party members, who depict the entire Party’s brainpower, agreement in will and strength of unity. The congress decided supplements and development of the 1991 Platform, defined the 10-year socio-economic development strategy (2011-2020), and map out orientations, goals and tasks for the 2011-2015 period.

While the most fervid speculation about the January 2011 Party Congress focused on the top four positions, jockeying for the 6-8 projected Politburo vacancies and, a step lower, for a position on the Central Committee (CC) was fierce and consequential.

Economic growth was set to reach between 7 and 7.5 percent annually during the 2011-15 period. Industrial and construction value growth is to rise between 7.8 and 8 percent in each of the next five years while agricultural growth is to increase 2.6-3 percent. Agriculture is set to make up 17-18 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP); the industry-construction sector, 41-42 percent and services, 41-42 percent. Hi-tech and hi-tech applicable products are expected to account for 35 percent of GDP. Trained workers will account for 55 percent of the national workforce. Export revenues are set to increase by 12 percent annually while trade deficits are reduced gradually to reach the balance of trade by 2020.

The 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) came to a conclusion in Hanoi on January 19 after sitting for nine days. The Congress elected a 200-member Central Committee for the 11th tenure, consisting of 175 official and 25 alternate members. The 11th CPV Central Committee convened its first meeting and elected 14 members to the Political Bureau. Nguyen Phu Trong was elected as General Secretary of the 11 th CPV Central Committee.

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Page last modified: 10-08-2014 19:55:46 ZULU