Former bureaucrat, legislator and deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was sworn in today as Vietnam’s new Prime Minister. He had already been selected by the party and was voted in formally by 446 out of 490 members of the National Assembly.
Than Nien News reported that Xuan Phuc pledged ‘absolute loyalty to the country, people and constitution’ and ‘to firmly defend the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity’.
Xuan Phuc succeeds the outgoing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung who has had 2 runs at the office. He will now rule along with Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong who was re-elected and President Tran Dai Quang.
The Communist Party is the only party in the state and holds a Congress every 5 years to review policies and performances. A new central committee is elected which meets to select a 16 member politburo from which the general secretary, prime minister and president are elected. The general secretary needs approval from congress while the prime minister and president have to be approved by the National Assembly within 6 months. However, this approval is a mere formality.
This year Congress was held over 8 days in January and Phuc was chosen to succeed Dung by more than 90% of voting.
Dung’s reforms and decisiveness in the business sector had won him much popularity but party members saw him as a threat because of his power and influence and therefore ousted him. Dung had pitched himself against Trong but failed to garner enough support from the 1500 delegates of the party, thereby closing the chapter of his political career. 71 yr old Trong remains as general secretary.
Xuan Phuc begins his tenure as PM in the face of growing economic crisis in the country. In spite of being one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, Vietnam has been facing rising public debts and budget deficits.
China’s aggressive territorial assertions in the South China Seas as well as a drought and salt intrusion situation in the Southern Mekong Delta, country’s main rice-growing district, are also challenges that will have to be tackled by the new prime minister.
Phuc will also have to continue with the reforms initiated by outgoing PM Dung. Dung 66, had pushed a pro- business agenda and initiated fast paced liberal economic measures. These include Vietnam’s accession to multi-lateral trade accords especially US-led Trans-Pacific Partnerships.
“Mr Phuc will begin his tenure when the economy has been in big trouble,” Le Hong Hiep, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said in an email. “”He will have to overcome major challenges to reform the state-owned sector and banking system, improve the country’s fiscal position, and strengthen the private sector to make the economy less dependent on foreign investments,” Hiep added.
David Brown, a Vietnam expert and retires US diplomat feared that the reform momentum would be slowed down by the ousting of Dung.
“Phuc certainly will be lower key than the hard-charging Dung,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia specialist at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We should expect him to operate within the consensus of the ruling politburo. He will have seen the impact on Dung of his more flamboyant, independent style,” he added.
Nguyen Quang A, an economist and political analyst, said the trend of reforms and international integration in Vietnam will not be stopped regardless of who is in power. He mentioned that no one can delay or derail the international integration, that is the only way for the country’s survival.
In the face of US criticism of jailing bloggers and activists for allegedly abusing democratic freedom and spreading anti-state propaganda, International rights group are hardly optimistic about any improvement in that quarter.
“I don’t think that Nguyen Xuan Phuc as the new prime minister will have a big role in improving Vietnam’s human rights record,” Quang A said, noting the country is ruled by collective leadership.