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Tenth Party Congress Re-Elects General Secretary Manh

The Tenth Party Congress of Vietnam's Communist Party has reelected General Secretary Nong Duc Manh for a second five-year term. The Congress selected a new Politburo and Central Committee with a surprising number of new faces.

If there was any suspense about who would lead Vietnam's Communist Party for the next five years, it ended Tuesday morning at the closing session of the Tenth Party Congress, when Politburo member Truong Tan Sang announced the man selected by party members as general secretary.

Nong Duc Manh, 65, has served as general secretary since 2001. His re-election struck a note of continuity at a time of significant turnover in the party's leadership.

The Party Congress elected eight new members to the 14-member Politburo. At the previous congress in 2001, just four new Politburo members were selected. As for the Party's 160-member Central Committee, 78 members - almost half - are new this year.

Vietnam's 72-year-old prime minister, Phan Van Khai, and its 68-year-old president, Tran Duc Luong, withdrew frm the Central Committee during the congress, meaning they will not be continuing in their posts. The National Assembly will officially elect their replacements at its next meeting, which has not been scheduled yet.

Many party members and political observers expect that 56-year-old Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will become the next prime minister. The new president is expected to be 62-year-old Nguyen Minh Triet, now the head of the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City.

The congress took place in the shadow of a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal in the Transportation Ministry, which led to the arrests and resignations of senior officials.

David Koh, an expert on Vietnamese politics at Singapore's Center for Southeast Asian Studies, says corruption was high on the agenda at the congress. However, he notes that in the end, no one lost a seat on the Central Committee or the Politburo because of it.

"Corruption definitely has affected the Congress in a certain way in a sense that it raised awareness among the delegates of the congress and the Central Committee," he explained, "that they really have to put the right people in place. And here what I mean by right people are people who are known to be honest and have integrity."

The congress also adopted a new Party Statute, calling on members to fight corruption. Nguyen Si Dung, vice chairman of the office of the National Assembly, says this reflects the issue's prominence.

"It's very important. It's maybe the hottest issue for the coming term of the party now," he said. "The request to have an oversight function for every party organization is another powerful tool to fight corruption."

Another closely watched issue was how the congress would address the question of the private sector versus the state-owned sector. The new party charter for the first time declares that members can participate in private business.

Nguyen Si Dung thinks this is an important shift.

"If party would have members that could do business, then businessmen would feel more comfortable to do business themselves. And that is very important," he said.

But in fact, says Koh, many party members have already ties to private business, either directly or through family members.

"Policy making in Vietnam most of the time has a policy following reality. … It would seem to me that this is merely another case of policy chasing after reality," he said.

The change in the rule reflects the large and growing role private business has in the country's economy.

Despite the role of private business, Vietnam's Communist Party also wanted to show that some things remain the same - including the official mission of the party.

The party's mission, says Central Committee member Le Huu Nghia, is "to successfully carry out socialism, and eventually communism."