The more Vietnam changes . . . New leaders: Transition keeps communism and capitalism in their places.

September 25, 1997

THE LONG-AWAITED leadership change for Vietnam went through without a hitch. But can that country sustain a Communist political system and a capitalist economy, especially when its capitalist neighbors are going through banking and currency crises?

The new political elite who now run the place want Vietnam to remain wedded to both isms in their separate spheres.

President Le Duc Anh, who retained military and political control in Communist Party hands while opening relations with the United States and welcoming old enemies to Hanoi, is stepping down. So is Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who ushered in entrepreneurship and solicited foreign investment, formerly despised as colonialist. Both men are in their mid-70s.

The new president, Tran Duc Luong, is a geologist by training and a colorless Communist Party bureaucrat of 60 who is said to preach caution on economic changes. But he is committed to the Communist power structure and to improved relations with neighbors and Western nations. The new prime minister is Phan Van Khai, 63, who as deputy prime minister was an architect of economic reform.

Those who thought the leadership changes by the 450-member National Assembly would offer meaningful contests or that it had become a real legislature with contending forces have been disabused. The Communist version of a parliament rubber-stamped the changes ordained by Communist Party leadership and did no deliberation of its own.

The two new-old faces at the pinnacle of government in Hanoi will constitute two-thirds of the triumvirate that rules Vietnam. The third member, and most important under the Communist system bequeathed by China and the former Soviet Union, is the party general secretary. Do Muoi, who is 80 and little known outside his own country, is keeping that position to smooth over the transition. When he is replaced, the other two men will be experienced at their jobs.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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