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Vietnam's Reform-Minded Prime Minister to Serve 2nd Term - 2002-07-25

Vietnam's reformist Prime Minister Phan Van Khai will serve a second five-year term after being confirmed by the National Assembly. He heads a new cabinet that must tackle crucial economic reforms.

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai is widely seen as the most reform-minded of Vietnam's troika of leaders. He wants change to come faster than does President Truong Duc Luong. And he often clashed with the hardliner Le Kha Phieu, who as head of the Communist Party had the country's most powerful position.

Mr. Khai was so frustrated that he reportedly tried to resign as prime minister several times. But he seems to get along much better with the new Communist Party leader, Nong Duc Manh, a moderate who replaced Mr. Phieu last year.

The new government lineup being confirmed this week has few changes at the top. But that may, in fact, be a sign change is coming because the team seems to work well together.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Acadamy, credits Mr. Manh with the new spirit of cooperation and says there may be hope reforms can move forward.

"I think since Nong Duc Manh replaced the outgoing secretary-general, he's had an identifiable agenda for Vietnam. He's come in at the right moment because his previous experience as head of the national assembly standing committee put in what I call the cutting edge of political liberalization, such as it is in Vietnam," he said.

Legal and economic reforms are crucial to Vietnam's future. With 1.3 million new people entering the workforce each year, it must average seven percent economic growth a year to keep unemployment and poverty from rising.

To achieve that goal, the government will have to open up its markets and encourage foreign investment. It will also have to fight the rampant corruption that for years has scared away many investors.