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Cablegate: Party-State Relations in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 002365

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS VM DPOL
SUBJECT: Party-State relations in Vietnam

Ref: A. Hanoi 2364 B. FBIS SEP20030722000042

1. (SBU) Summary. The Communist Party continues to run
the show in Vietnam, and there are even calls for it to
"strengthen" its leadership over the State at a time when
direct Party control over the economy and over individual
lives has been generally declining. The CPV's leadership
role stems directly from the trust of the people, according
to senior CPV officials; in order to retain that trust the
Party must be willing to admit mistakes. Apart from setting
general guidelines, CPV committees also retain oversight of
GVN implementation and sometimes provide ongoing advice to
State organs, which has led to some Party-State conflicts,
especially at lower levels. While the judiciary remains
technically "independent," Party officials continue to have
input into investigations, arrests, and prosecutions,
although not -- in theory -- on actual sentencing, even on
sensitive political cases such as cyber-activist Pham Hong
Son. CPV cells remain omnipresent throughout the
bureaucracy, at all levels. End Summary.

2. (U) The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam specifies that the Communist Party of Vietnam is the
"force leading the State and society" but that all party
organizations must "operate within the framework of the
Constitution and the law." The realities of Party-State
relations remain little understood or discussed, however.

3. (U) The pinnacle of the CPV is its 15-man (literally;
there are no women members) Politburo, while that of the
State is the "Government" (comparable to the Cabinet in the
U.S.), composed of the Prime Minister, three Prime
Ministers, and 26 ministers or ministerial-equivalents (the
chairmen of Commissions on Ethnic affairs, on Population,
Family, and Children, and on Physical Training and Sports,
as well as the heads of the State Bank, State Inspectorate,
and Office of Government.) Institutional overlap between
Party and Government is inevitable: sitting on the
Politburo -- in addition to General Secretary Nong Duc Manh
and party chiefs for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City -- are the
President, Prime Minister, one Deputy Prime Minister, and
three Ministers (Public Security, Defense, and Culture and
Information), as well as the Chairman and one Vice Chairman
of the National Assembly.

Who gets which jobs
-------------------

4. (U) In a meeting with Ambassador and Pol/C (ref a),
Politburo member and CPV Organization Commission Chairman
Tran Dinh Hoan admitted that the Party had the final say on
major State appointments. He cited the example of Vice
Ministers, who must be vetted by the Party cell (see para
12) within the Ministry first, then recommended by the
Minister and approved by the Prime Minister. After the
Prime Minister's decision, however, the Organization
Commission must give its blessing (or not), Hoan said, while
nonetheless stressing that the CPV did not have the
exclusive role in deciding. He added that there was "close
coordination" between Party and state organs during this
"open" process, which in principle could be as short as two
weeks. The CPV was primarily responsible for ensuring that
appointees meet criteria for "dignity and character" and
that they "deserved" the appointment.

5. (U) Hoan emphasized that CPV membership was not a
requirement for senior-level appointments, noting that
historically there had been Deputy Prime Ministers as well
as Ministers (especially in technical fields such as
Education, Agriculture, and Health) who were non-Party
figures. He indicated that, currently, "some" Vice
Ministers were non-CPV members, without giving examples. He
admitted, however, that as non-CPV members rose through the
State ranks, the CPV often "brought them in."

Making mistakes
---------------

6. (U) Hoan described CPV leadership as setting the
"strategic orientation" for the "concrete implementation" by
the State. He emphasized that the CPV did not and should
not "replace" the State, and that the CPV remained only a
"part of the political system," which it nonetheless leads.
He claimed that the CPV drew its strength and authority from
"the people." In slight contrast, he noted that "the
people" also built the State, but could also "overthrow" it,
whereas no one would wish any alternative to the CPV. He
stressed the importance that the CPV admit its mistakes to
the people and take responsibility, as it had when Ho Chi
Minh apologized publicly and removed then-General Secretary
Truong Chinh over post-1954 land reform mistakes. Hoan
added that mistakes originated whenever the Party "didn't
listen to the people." In response to the "opinions of the
people," the CPV also must continually engage in self-reform
("tu doi moi," an expansion of the term for Vietnam's
economic renovation program since 1986).

Readjusting relations
---------------------

7. (U) In a separate meeting with Pol/C, Le Duc Binh
(former head of the CPV's Internal Affairs Commission) and
Dr. Pham Ngoc Quang (former dean at the Ho Chi Minh
Political Academy) elaborated on a July 2003 article (ref b)
on "strengthening Party leadership in State management work"
in the CPV's theoretical publication "Communist Review" (Tap
Chi Cong San). Binh noted that the CPV's leading role
stemmed not from "force" but from the "people's wishes,"
without which the CPV could not maintain its power. The
role of the CPV is to "help" the State to "develop the
potential and interests" of the nation, he claimed. He
described the CPV as only a "political party, not a
manager." He predicted that the CPV leadership quality
would continue to rise and push the State's legal
development and socialist progress to "even higher stages,"
while ensuring also "better service."

8. (U) In their article, however, the authors highlighted
the need to "enhance" Party leadership over the State as
well as to "strengthen" its leadership "over the political
system in general." They explicitly reminded that the CPV's
role was not only to set the "orientation" for the State (as
suggested by Hoan) but also to "lead in the implementation
of these policies and directly settle some serious issues."
Interestingly, they also admitted some "conflicts" between
Party Committees and People's Committees at provincial and
local levels due to this overlap. They cited specifically
the central role of CPV organs in reviewing performance of
and in assigning State cadres.

9. (U) Binh and Quang explained that the impetus for their
article at this time was that "some" State cadres continue
to "misunderstand," "implement badly," or even to "violate"
CPV policies and guidelines. Therefore, "strengthening" the
Party would "raise State effectiveness to a higher level."
They admitted the increasing "dangers" of corruption and
over-bureaucratization, which had sparked public criticism
via the National Assembly. Binh also admitted that the CPV,
and therefore the GVN, had "made mistakes" due to its
limited experience in economic affairs in the post-doi moi
era. As a result, CPV "leadership capacity" and the
"feelings of the people" had been "hurt," another reason for
the immediate need to strengthen Party leadership now in the
face of new challenges.

Judiciary work
--------------

10. (U) The "Communist Review" article admits an important
role for the CPV in juridical work, including in the
"arrest, investigation, and prosecution" phases, while
simultaneously emphasizing the independence of judges.
However, the authors noted that "apart from political and
major socioeconomic transgression cases, the Party will let
the judicial sector handle all other cases" and that "for
cases involving political crimes," the Party cell would
"provide orientations on court trial." They also admitted
past cases of "incorrect leadership," in which Party
committees had "interfered deeply into activities of the
judicial sector." Binh explained these comments as a
reflection on the relative newness of the legal system in
Vietnam, in which CPV "advice" remained valuable to judicial
officials. He reiterated that judges were strictly
"independent" and influenced only by the law. The role of
CPV cells in judicial organs was only to "oversee that they
follow the law," not to "interfere," Binh claimed.

11. (U) While admitting that the CPV retains a special
interest and role in "political crimes," Binh assured that
the CPV did not "dictate" outcome of individual trials.
Specifically in the case of cyber-activist Pham Hong Son
(who was given a 13 year sentence in June on grounds of
"espionage," only to have the term shortened to five years
upon appeal), Binh maintained that the CPV itself had not
made the decision either on the original sentence or on the
appeal, and that "international concerns" were not at all
relevant in judicial decisions.

Pervasive network
-----------------

12. (U) Binh and Quang confirmed that the CPV network
spreads throughout the State mechanisms at the national,
provincial, and state levels. Each Ministry has a central
Party Cell, usually chaired by the Minister, composed of 5-7
members at smaller Ministries (probably like MFA) and 13-14
people for larger ministries. Similar cells exists downward
within Ministries for branches and departments, as well as
in other State agencies, schools, universities, etc. (Many
institutions and State organs also run parallel cells for
the Youth Federation, whose members go up to the age of
about 28.) Binh claimed that the main function of Party
cells was to act as "model" for State employees, not to
decide on specific policies, as well as to "propagandize"
Party guidelines and orientations. They claimed, however,
that formal meetings of the Party Cells were rare, sometimes
only once every year or two, while declining to generalize
upon less formal mechanisms for retaining the Party
leadership within each Ministry and agency.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) The longer-term trend in Vietnam over the past
fifteen years has been toward the diminishment of the role
of the Party -- and indeed of the State -- in the economy as
well as in the lives of individual citizens. The CPV
nonetheless continues to maintain its monopoly of political
power and remains the ultimate arbiter of all major
decisions, in all sectors. Its network ensures broad and
deep -- but not always effective or impartial -- oversight,
and the redundancy between Party and State roles also helps
to ensure that GVN cadres hew to the Party line. In the
midst of Vietnam's efforts to build a "law governed" society
and international efforts (including by USG) to promote rule
of law, CPV protestations of judicial independence ring
somewhat hollow, at least on sensitive cases. Increasingly,
the long-standing tradition of rule-by-party will run into
conflicts with the growing maturity of rule-by-law.
BURGHARDT

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