Former Vietnamese Communist chief criticizes party

04 Feb 2010

Hanoi – An article by former Vietnamese Communist Party head Le Kha Phieu in Thursday’s state-controlled media criticized the party for “corruption, bureaucracy and individualistic ideology” and calls for more democracy within the party ranks. Phieu, 78, was general secretary of the party from 1997 to 2001. The general secretary is one of Vietnam’s top three leaders along with the prime minister and president. The party is “failing to recognize the serious decline of the people’s trust in the party and the state due to officials’ and party members’ lack of exemplary morality and intellectual stature,” Phieu wrote. Vietnam has been engaged in a crackdown in recent months on advocates of multiparty democracy, but Phieu’s article mainly calls for openness and democracy within the party rather than outside it. Vietnam expert Carlyle Thayer said Phieu’s article was part of the maneuvering in the run-up to the 11th Party Congress, scheduled for 2011, which is to select a new national leadership. “The party has a principle of democratic centralism, where party members are allowed to express their views,” Thayer said. Vietnam’s Communist Party has increased internal democracy over the past two decades. Senior leaders in the Politburo are elected by the members of the Central Committee, who are in turn elected by more than 1,000 Party Congress delegates. Phieu himself became one of the first casualties of intra-party democracy when members refused to re-elect him in 2001. In late 1997, he was selected to replace conservative general secretary Do Muoi, who was humiliatingly demoted in the middle of his five-year term for failing to cope with economic setbacks. In 2001, rather than allow Phieu to serve a full five-year term, party members chose a new general secretary, Nong Duc Manh. Phieu had been damaged by a scandal in which a secret intelligence unit, General Directorate 2, was found to have bugged party leaders’ phones and given the tapes to Phieu for personal political advantage. Conservative proteges of Muoi were also instrumental in his downfall. Retired senior leaders have often played the role of reformist gadflies in Vietnamese politics. Revered revolutionary general Vo Nguyen Giap has been a key critic of corruption and environmental and security policies while former prime minister Vo Van Kiet advocated multiparty democracy and at one point suggested dropping the word “communist” from the party’s title. “Phieu may be auditioning for that role of distinguished former leader,” Thayer said. “This also may be a bit of payback for the way conservatives treated him” in 2001.

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