HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam's re-elected leader, a 71-year-old Communist Party ideologue, made it clear Wednesday that one-party rule was here to stay, insisting that the collective leadership he heads is a better alternative to what he called authoritarianism disguised as democracy.
General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (pronounced noo-YEN' FOO' CHONG') was re-elected Wednesday as head of the party and the leader of a 19-member Politburo that will govern Vietnam for the next five years. The decisions were made at the end of a weeklong congress of the 4.5-million-member party, which rules the lives of 93 million Vietnamese.
"Vietnam's Communist Party is one-party rule but we also have principles of democracy and accountability of the leaders. Otherwise, good deeds would be credited to individuals while failure would be blamed on the group and no one would be disciplined," he said.
"The principle of the Communist Party of Vietnam is collective leadership with accountability and responsibility of the individual, which can never become authoritarian. It is not proper to name them, but in a number of countries, in the name of democracy, all decisions are made by one person. So which is more democratic?"
Apparently justifying the iron-fisted rule of the Communist Party, Trong said the country needs discipline to meet its goal of becoming a modern, industrialized society
"However, a country without discipline would be chaotic and unstable ... Democracy should go alongside discipline. There should be no imbalance. We should not go to either extreme. We need to balance between democracy and law and order. "
Along with Trong, a new crop of leaders were elected to the Politburo and the 180-member Central Committee, the other key component of the ruling structure.
The renewal of the leadership means little change for Vietnam, where the people have no direct role in selecting the party leaders.
Trong is expected to continue to push the economic reforms led by outgoing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The prime minister is the de facto No. 2 in the hierarchy, and the post will be held by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc after it is endorsed by the National Assembly later this year.
Despite having a reputation for being pro-China, Trong is not likely to be totally subservient to Beijing as that would risk massive anger from ordinary Vietnamese who harbor a deep dislike and historical suspicion of China.
"Many people were afraid that a conservative trend would prevail if Mr. Trong is re-elected. But ... whoever they may be, and however conservative they may be, when they are at the helm they are under pressure to carry out reforms," Le Hong Hiep, a visiting Vietnamese fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore, told The Associated Press.
Trong's re-election was an expected outcome, even though he was briefly challenged by Dung in what had become a relatively public power struggle. Dung was ousted from the Politburo also this past week, and now that he has become virtually a lame duck prime minister, it is not clear how he will make any decisions incumbent on his office.
Trong's camp has accused Dung of corruption and mismanagement, but analysts believe that the accusations were an excuse since the widespread corruption that seeps through the system is not likely to vanish overnight with Dung's departure.
Addressing that question, Trong said there was a need to "particularly sustain the accountability and responsibility of the leaders and supervise power to ensure corruption and wastefulness are brought under control."
Trong said he was surprised to be re-elected "because I am quite old. I am the oldest member in the leadership of Vietnam. I myself asked to be retired but due to responsibility tasked on me by the party I had to accept."
The third most important member elected to the Politburo was Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, who will be the country's new president.