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Vietnam - Leadership

Head of Party

Oct 193002 Sep 1969Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Ai Quoc)
First Secretary Vietnam Workers' Party (DLDV)
May 194101 Nov 1956 Truong Chinh
01 Nov 195610 Sep 1960 Ho Chi Minh
10 Sep 196020 Dec 1976 Le Duan
General Secretary of the Communist Party (DCSV)
20 Dec 197610 Jul 1986 Le Duan
14 Jul 198618 Dec 1986 Truong Chinh
18 Dec 198627 Jun 1991 Nguyen Van Linh
27 Jun 199129 Dec 1997 Do Muoi
29 Dec 199722 Apr 2001 Le Kha Phieu
22 Apr 200119 Jan 2011 Nong Duc Manh
19 Jan 2011 Nguyen Phu Trong

Head of State

02 Mar 194602 Sep 1969 Ho Chi Minh
03 Sep 196902 Jul 1976 Ton Duc Thang
02 Jul 197630 Mar 1980 Ton Duc Thang
30 Mar 198004 Jul 1981 Nguyen Huu Tho
Chairman of the State Council
04 Jul 198118 Jun 1987 Truong Chinh
18 Jun 198723 Sep 1992 Vo Chi Cong
23 Sep 199224 Sep 1997 Le Duc Anh
24 Sep 199727 Jun 2006 Tran Duc Luong
27 Jun 200625 Jul 2011 Nguyen Minh Triet
25 Jul 2011 2016 Truong Tan Sang
2016 21 Sep 2018Tran Dai Quang
26 Oct 2018 2021Nguyen Phu Trong

Head of Government

Prime minister
30 Aug 194520 Sep 1955 Ho Chi Minh
20 Sep 195502 Jul 1976 Pham Van Dong
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
02 Jul 197618 Jun 1987 Pham Van Dong
18 Jun 198710 Mar 1988 Pham Hung
10 Mar 198822 Jun 1988 Vo Van Kiet
22 Jun 198808 Aug 1991 Do Muoi
08 Aug 199124 Sep 1992 Vo Van Kiet
Prime minister
24 Sep 199225 Sep 1997 Vo Van Kiet
25 Sep 199727 Jun 2006 Phan Van Khai
27 Jun 20062016 Nguyen Tan Dung
20162021 Nguyen Xuan Phuc

The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has a monopoly on power. After Ho Chi Minh's death, the government was run collectively. Many of these leaders left little impression and were little known outside Vietnam. How much power they wielded as individuals was not clear, with decisions tending to be collectively made. A three-person collective leadership consists of the VCP general secretary, the prime minister, and the president. A decision by any member of the triumvirate is vetted by the other two. As a result, policy announcements tend to be bland and equivocal.

The VCP was characterized by the stability of its leadership. According to Vietnam observer Douglas Pike, Hanoi's leadership was "forged of a constant forty-year association" in which individuals shared "the same common experience, the same development, the same social trauma." Because of their small number, Political Bureau members were able to arrive at agreement more easily than larger forums and hence were able to deal more effectively with day-to-day decisions. As individuals, they tended to take on a large number of diverse party and government functions, thus keeping the administrative apparatus small and highly personalized.

Decisions were made in a collegial fashion with alliances changing on different issues. Where factions existed, they were differentiated along lines separating those favoring Moscow from those preferring Beijing or along lines distinguishing ideological hardliners and purists from reformists and economic pragmatists. Accounts by Hoang Van Hoan, a former Political Bureau member who fled to Beijing in 1978, and of Truong Nhu Tang, former justice minister of the NLF verified the existence in the early 1970s of factions identified by their loyalty to either Moscow or Beijing.

The pro-Soviet direction taken following Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969, and particularly after the Fourth National Party Congress in 1977, was the result of the party's having progressively come under the influence of a small pro-Soviet clique led by Party Secretary Le Duan and high-ranking Political Bureau member Le Duc Tho, and including Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, and Pham Hung. Until Le Duan's death, these five represented a core policy-making element within the Political Bureau.

Whether or not a similar core of decision makers existed in the Political Bureau of the 1980s, under Party Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, was not clear. Differences within the Political Bureau in the 1980s, however, appeared focused on the country's economic problems. The line was drawn between reformists, who were willing to institute changes that included a free market system in order to stimulate Vietnam's ailing economy, and ideologues, who feared the effect such reforms would have on party control and the ideological purity of the society.

The leadership changes that occurred in late 1986 and early 1987 as a result of the Sixth National Party Congress suggested that the reformers might have won concessions in favor of moderate economic reform. The scale of the infighting reportedly was small, however, and the changes that were made probably were undertaken on the basis of a consensus reached between the hardliners and the reformers. Nevertheless, the results demonstrated that Vietnam's leaders increasingly had come to the realization that rebuilding the country's war-torn economy was as difficult an undertaking as conquering the Saigon government.

Traditionally, the post of Prime Minister has gone to a southerner, President to a party member from central Vietnam and General Secretary of the Party to a northerner. Since Party strongman Le Duan's death in 1986, the General Secretary had always come from the North, the Prime Minister from the South; there has been an additional effort, less consistently applied, to have the third position in Vietnam's traditional power troika, State President, come from the Center. Some academic analysts argued that regionalism is less and less correlated with ideological differences and of late has faded in importance. Having both the PM and President come from the South was an extremely hard pill for many Northerners to swallow in 2006, made palatable only because the top spot was held by a Northerner. Factionalism, of which regionalism remains the most potent fault line, increasingly is no longer about ideology -- it is about power, patronage, and wealth.

Some prominent children of high-ranking Vietnamese officials, including those of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, have been elected by Vietnam’s Communist Party members to key positions in provinces and municipalities, sparking debate about the role of "princelings." Nguyen Thanh Nghi, Dung’s eldest son, has become one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in Vietnam at age 39. His younger brother, Nguyen Minh Triet, was also selected to be a member of the party committee of Binh Dinh province.

The development sparked a heated debate in Vietnam about whether the election process should be freer and more transparent and allow participation of the public. Facing harsh public criticism, Vietnamese officials quickly responded that such promotions were conducted in accordance with “guidelines and administrative procedures” and were a “positive move.”

The rise of officials' offspring may indicate fighting within the party, as well as the feeling of uncertainty of Vietnamese officials. Vietnam’s history shows that if the political situation is stable, they feel no need of pushing their children to different positions.

The Vietnamese Communist Party geared up for its 12th party congress in January 2016. That gathering selected the country's next top leaders. The party congress results ended months of speculation that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung might shake things up and take Trong’s seat. Instead, the party returned to homeostasis in re-electing the somewhat conservative general secretary. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong secured more than 80 percent of the votes from delegates at the party congress to win election to the Central Committee.

On 25 January 2016 Nguyen Phu Trong, Tran Dai Quang [now national police chief], Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan were nominated for being in 4 key positions: General Secretary, State President, Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Assembly. The general secretary, prime minister, president, and the chair of National Assembly, are the four key members in the collective leadership represented by the Politburo, while the 180-member Central Committee, which handles policy.

Nguyen Phu Trong would stay on as a place-holder general secretary for what might amount to half of a five-year term. The 71-year-old Trong was seen as receptive to Beijing’s economic and political overtures, even as the two countries are at odds over Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption, was placed on the political sidelines. Conservative apparatchiks backed Trong against Dung, who was viewed as more open to the West and particularly the United States. Dung won praise when he denounced the Chinese in May 2014 for moving an oil rig off the Vietnamese coast.

Trong had been trying unsuccessfully for years to sideline Dung, and while contests for the top post are not unheard of, they are usually settled well ahead of the party congress. The unprecedented political jockeying in the Vietnamese Communist Party as it selected new leaders in late January 2016 was a reflection of the struggles within a facing new pressures buffeting the nation from both inside and outside its borders.

Although the choice of the Vietnam's political leaders is normally a foregone conclusion in the one-party state, the 2016 National Congress, which begans 28 January 2016, wasn't cut-and-dried. Party leaders were dealing with a population that is increasingly restless with corruption, a business community seeking market reforms and an emboldened China that was making incursions on Vietnam's sovereignty.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2018 18:46:08 ZULU