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Viet Communists Set to Finalize New Cabinet

Vietnam's ruling Communist Party is preparing to finalize a new cabinet when the Central Committee meets Thursday. The party faithful are expected to stress political stability in their choices for leaders to oversee economic reforms.

The Communist Party's powerful Central Committee will decide behind closed doors on a new government cabinet in a series of meetings beginning Thursday. Who will stay and who will go is the topic of speculation among analysts and diplomats.

Prevailing wisdom holds that the party will ask both President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai to stay on for the sake of political stability. The past year has been rough on the authoritarian government. It faced mass demonstrations in its central highlands last February and is now embroiled in a scandal involving official protection of a reputed gangster.

The Communist Party also already made a major leadership change last year when it elected Nong Duc Manh as its new secretary-general, arguably the most powerful position in the country.

Most of these signs point to changes only in second-tier positions. Popular Trade Minister Vu Khoan, who negotiated the recent landmark trade agreement with the United States, may be promoted to deputy prime minister. He would replace Nguyen Manh Cam, who is in line to become vice president.

The new cabinet line-up must be approved by the elected National Assembly at its opening session on July 19. The 498-member body will meet for the first time since May's elections.

Once in place, the cabinet must push reforms in the economic sector. In its quest to join the World Trade Organization, Vietnam has pledged to open up the country to investment, overhaul banks and transform or shut down hundreds of money-losing state-owned businesses.