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Vietnam picks new leader

Nong Duc Manh chats with Phan Van Khai
Nong Duc Manh (L), chats with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai  

In this story:

Rumors flying for months

New leader 9 years younger

Main policies remain the same

Speed reform

The first ethnic minority chief

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HANOI, Vietnam -- Reform-minded National Assembly chairman Nong Duc Manh is to be named Vietnam's new leader in place of unpopular conservative Le Kha Phieu at a Communist Party congress.

Professor Le Xuan Khoa says Manh is educated, young and openly debates cabinet ministers.
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The central committee has already picked the new leader, but a formal vote will be taken on Saturday with an announcement on Sunday, according to a senior official.

Phieu, the current leader of the ruling party, said he was ready to make way for a younger generation if the conditions were right and the formal session on the five-yearly congress so decided. Phieu is 70, Manh is 61.

Vietnam is holding its ninth party congress where more than 1,000 party faithful are going to endorse the new leadership and set Vietnam's political and economic course.

Rumors flying for months

A senior government official, who did not want to be identified, said a new 150-member central committee elected at an internal congress this week, picked Manh -- a member of an ethnic minority and widely rumored to be a son of revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh -- as party leader.

Vietnam Communist Party leaders
Vietnam's Communist Party leaders pay respects at the mausoleum of former leader Ho Chi Minh before congress starts  

Diplomatic sources told CNN that it's a common practice that decisions are made by a smaller committee and then ratified by the congress.

He said rumors have been flying for months concerning the change of leadership.

"It's been out there as a subject for a long time. Some names have been mentioned but not until the recent few days that it's totally clear," he said.

New leader 9 years younger

Phieu, who only took his post in 1997, said he was willing to step down for a younger man.

"I think I have reached the age and if the conditions are right, then the conditions should be created for a younger person," he said.

Phieu has been in office since 1997  

Asked if he was happy with the vote in favor of Manh, he said: "In general, everyone wants to work and work more. But in fact, when a young generation has sufficient capability then we should create conditions for them to work."

The congress is to endorse a 10-year socio-economic development plan backed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund laying out ambitious growth targets dependent on faster economic reform.

Party sources said that in picking Manh the new central committee also voted in a new 15-member elite politburo, retaining 11 of the previous 18 and adding four new members. The party terms are five years.

Main policies remain the same

"My first impression is that this (leadership change) is a good way for Vietnam, economically and politically," the government official said.

"The main policies will be the same, an open economy to the outside and the same international policies.

"People are taking this chance to review what has happened in past years and if implementation has been bad, it must be corrected."

Speed reform

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said Manh's elevation should help establish proper legal basis for to speed reform.

"It looks very positive so far. Hopefully we can expect a stronger legal basis for reform and less arbitrary rule."

Diplomats see him as someone who would push more than Phieu for reform of the cumbersome bureaucracy and legal system and say his appointment would send a positive message to the outside world that could help spur sluggish foreign investment.

Washington based Professor Le Xuan Khoa from John Hopkins University told CNN he believes the party congress made a wise decision.

He said, "Mr Manh has a number of positive traits; number one, he's young as party secretary at the age of 60".

"Number two, he's educated, the most educated, the first secretary general who has a college degree from a foreign institution. Number three; he has established a very good record as national assembly speaker in terms of maintaining close contact with the people.

"He's the first national assembly chairman who openly live debates with cabinet ministers, so that's very important so the people can be aware of what is going with the government" Khoa added.

The first ethnic minority chief

Manh, the National Assembly chairman since 1992, would be the first ethnic minority member to become party chief.

A Western diplomat quoted a party source as saying the internal congress had voted for retention of Luong as state president, while reformist Prime Minister Phan Van Khai would continue in his post until May 2002.

The diplomat's source also said Trade Minister Vu Khoan, who negotiated a historic trade pact with Washington last year, would take the deputy premier's post held by Nguyen Manh Cam.

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Vietnam Info
Communist Party of Vietnam

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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