Asia

In Vietnam people, have virtually no say in choosing leaders

Vietnam's Communist Party will hold its 12th congress Jan. 21-28 to elect a new set of leaders for the next five years. Here's a look at how the process works.

CENTER OF POWER

Vietnam's 93 million people do not directly elect their top leaders, who are chosen by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Article 4 of Vietnam's constitution formally gives the Communist Party the right to rule the country. It controls the government, legislature, military, police, judiciary and virtually every public organization including farmers', youth and women's organizations.

PARTY CONGRESS

It is held every five years to elect the all-powerful party Central Committee, which this year will have 180 members, up from 175 currently, and the Politburo, which this year could be more than the current 16. It also chooses the party general secretary and endorses the nominees for the posts of the president, the prime minister and the chairman of the National Assembly, or parliament.

The general secretary is the most powerful official in the collective leadership. The prime minister is considered No. 2 in the hierarchy. The president holds a largely ceremonial post although he is nominally the head of the military.

SECRET AFFAIR

The party congress is held behind closed doors in complete secrecy, except for the ceremonial opening and closing sessions that are broadcast live on state television. A total of 1,510 Communist Party delegates representing 63 provinces, ministries, government agencies and party commissions attend the party congress in the capital, Hanoi. The outgoing central committee issues a list of candidates for the new Politburo and the new central committee, which the congress members will then debate. These lists have more names than available positions, allowing for the delegates to vote on their choices.

DO THE PEOPLE HAVE ANY SAY AT ALL?

Not really. The people do elect the 500 legislators in the National Assembly, most of whom are Communist Party members, but it is mostly a rubber-stamp body. The new assembly, to be elected in May, will hold its first session in June, where it will formally select the president, prime minister and Cabinet members chosen by the party congress in elections that normally have only one candidate. Because of this process, Vietnam's government says that leaders are the people's choice.

POWER STRUGGLE

In the days leading up to the congress, there appeared to be a power struggle between General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (pronounced "Nyu-en Foo Chong") and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (pronounced "Nyu-en Taan Dzoong").

Trong, 71, took over as secretary-general in 2011 even though he should have been ineligible for the post because of the compulsory retirement age of 65 from the Politburo. An exception was made to allow him to be re-elected to the Politburo and take over the top post.

Unofficial reports leaked from party meetings say that Trong has been nominated as the sole candidate for General Secretary for a second term, effectively removing Dung from the race.