A power struggle between a political maverick and a conservative insider. A show of force by China and a dead mystic turtle.It’s not usually an occasion for drama but Vietnam’s leadership transition is serving up an unprecedented amount of political intrigue.Held every five years, the Communist Party National Congress selects the country’s next leaders but what is usually a highly choreographed affair has veered off script.”You have 1,200 people in a room duking it out. Their cell phones have been taken, their email and Internet access is restricted and they’ve even been restricted from talking to each other. It’s unprecedented in the history of the party,” said Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at City University of Hong Kong. Until a few months ago, Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s two-term prime minister had the upper hand.Often cast as a reformer, he has opened up the country’s economy to foreign investment and publicly taken a tougher stance towards giant neighbor and long-time rival China.
He and his allies were expected expected to take control of the Party, Vietnam’s top job, and replace current General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, a more doctrinaire leader ideologically allied to China.”Dung is a bit of a political maverick and has sought to present himself as a reformer and something of a democrat but has been accused within and outside the party of being power hungry, corrupt and a fake reformer,” said London.But Dung’s ascent remains uncertain after he wasn’t listed among leadership candidates agreed by top politburo decision makers just before the Party congress began.And his rival Trong also passed a resolution banning delegates nominating themselves or anyone not on the list.Phuong Nguyen, an associate fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says it looks like Dung’s (pronounced Tzung) political career might be over.”If he doesn’t make a comeback of some sort, he will be out of the next government. Trong has spoken out very strongly about what he saw about the corruption that’s taken place under leadership of Dung.”It’s no secret that his faction has been trying to remove Dung dung several times and this Party congress is really the apex of their power struggle.”Vietnam’s state news agency said Wednesday that Trong had been relected as Communist Party chief, cementing his hold on power.