Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party will hold a congress starting on Jan. 25 that will select new leadership and shape policy in the Southeast Asian country for the next five years.
Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by four ‘pillars’: the chief of its Communist Party, a president, a prime minister and the National Assembly chair.
The main candidates are all widely known in Hanoi’s political circles, but were officially declared top secret in December in order to discourage potentially critical debate. The Party retains tight control of media and tolerates little criticism.
Here is a look at some possible candidates identified by analysts as being in the running for the four ‘pillar’ positions:
NGUYEN PHU TRONG, 76
Trong, a Party ideologue, is its serving General Secretary and has led an anti-corruption drive after ejecting former leadership rivals that had closer ties to business.
Since also inheriting the position of President, after the previous incumbent died, he has become one of the most powerful Vietnamese politicians in decades.
Trong has been struggling with bad health, but after two consecutive terms as Party chief is expected by analysts to continue for a third.
If so, Trong will become the longest-serving General Secretary since Le Duan, the leader who took control and ruled with an iron fist after the death of Vietnam’s founding revolutionary Ho Chi Minh.
NGUYEN XUAN PHUC, 66
Phuc, the current Prime Minister, has represented Hanoi on the world stage as the face of Vietnam’s many trade deals and pushed for regional multilateralism as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last year.
Phuc could fight for a second term or seek to further climb the party ranks. Some analysts have tipped him to become state president, predominantly a ceremonial position.
He has also been seen as a potential successor to Trong if the latter does not complete a full third term.
PHAM MINH CHINH, 62
Chinh is currently head of the Party’s powerful and influential Central Organisation Commission, giving him long reach across Party ranks.
Despite not having much economic management experience, Chinh, a Party apparatchik who has held several positions in Vietnam’s powerful Ministry of Public Security, has been widely tipped as the next Prime Minister.
The prospect of a candidate without the economic prowess of the incumbent Phuc has brought the role of Vietnam’s first deputy prime minister into greater focus. There are several candidates for that role, but no clear frontrunner as yet.
If selected, Chinh would be the first Vietnamese PM not to have previously served as a deputy prime minister.
VUONG DINH HUE, 63
Hue is a former finance minister and professor of economics. He is currently Secretary of the Hanoi Communist Party Committee, and has been tipped by analysts to become National Assembly chair.
That position is the least powerful of the top four roles, but has also been a springboard to the General Secretary role in the past – Trong himself was National Assembly chair before he became Party chief.
A trained economist as well as a former deputy prime minister, Hue has also been identified as a potential prime ministerial candidate.