Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong was named in a top leadership meeting on Sunday to a third term as the Party’s general secretary, breaking Party rules that would normally have limited him to two terms in office.
Kept in his post because of his achievements in office, Trong will now serve another five-year term in the Party’s top job, joining as a “special case” Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who was named prime minister despite having passed the customary retirement age of 65.
Speaking at a press conference at the conclusion of the 13th ruling Communist Party Congress, which began on Jan. 25 and ended a day early on Jan. 31, Trong said he would prefer to have retired, citing his age and saying, “Health is an important requirement for work.”
“The Congress elected me, though, so I will have to continue in my mission,” he said.
No details were provided by state media regarding how many candidates had run for the position of general secretary won by Trong at the Party Congress, a gathering held every five years to select Vietnam’s top leaders and approve economic policies, and attended this year by around 1,500 delegates from around the country.
The convening of the Congress was cited by rights activists and experts as the reason Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply in 2020 with a sweeping round-up of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook commentators.
Speaking to RFA, Nguyen Dinh Cong—a close observer of the Congress and former head of the construction faculty at the Hanoi University of Civil Engineering—voiced surprise that Trong and Phuc had been named to their posts without amendments being made to the Party charter.
“I don’t know how these matters were discussed at the Congress, but I found this all very strange,” he said.
A mutual understanding
China’s President Xi Jinping was the first world leader to congratulate Trong on his continued role as Party chief, with Nguyen Quang A—a civil activist based in Hanoi—describing the two men to RFA as close personal friends.
Trong’s election to a third term as Party chief in violation of Party rules was similar to the removal in 2018 by Xi Jinping of a 10-year limit to his term as China’s president, allowing him now to serve for life, Nguyen Quang A said.
“That Nguyen Phu Trong was re-elected to the position of Vietnam’s Party general secretary is absolutely good news for China, because [he and Xi Jinping] understand each other,” he said.
In a Feb. 1 statement, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said the selection of Trong and Phuc as Vietnam’s top leaders “cements authoritarian rule and ushers in five more years of repression and human rights abuses.”
“While the international community has praised the Vietnamese government over its response to the [COVID-19] pandemic, it has utterly failed to condemn it over the harshest crackdown on peaceful dissent in recent years.”
“The international community’s muted reaction to the repression of peaceful dissent has emboldened the Communist Party of Vietnam to reward the country’s authoritarian leaders,” the Committee said.
According to rights group Defend the Defenders, Hanoi is currently detaining at least 238 prisoners of conscience.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.