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Cablegate: Vietnam's National Assembly Approves New Government,

DE RUEHHI #1802/01 1980436
R 170436Z JUL 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HANOI 1580; B) HANOI 1090

HANOI 00001802 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: During an unusually long summer
session convened May 16-June 29 to approve the new government
selected by the Communist Party of Vietnam's (CPV) 10th Party
Congress, Vietnam's National Assembly (NA) also debated ten laws and
approved three resolutions (debate on the laws reported septel). In
an unprecedented development, the CPV's nominees for the three top
leadership positions (below Party Secretary) made brief
presentations to the NA before their candidacies were voted on. NA
displeasure over the GVN's non-reaction to recent corruption
scandals was clearly evident in low votes returned on several CPV
candidates tainted by the scandals and in a rancorous question and
answer session with Government ministers. Several ranking Cabinet
members cited Party policy as justification for the GVN's
non-investigation of some figures, which provided an opening for
some deputies to discuss the CPV's actual place in Vietnam's
society, an issue that was raised indirectly in several other
deputies' comments. This session underscores that the Assembly has
had some success in carving out space for itself as a real organ of
government, at least in asserting its right to discuss even the most
sensitive aspects of the country's political life. End Summary and

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New Government Reaffirms GVN Policy to Continue Reform
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (SBU) Foremost in the agenda of the latest session of the NA, an
unusual summer session called immediately after the conclusion of
the 10th Party Congress, was the "election" of the CPV's nominees
for State President, Prime Minister and National Assembly Chairman,
and approval of nine cabinet members, including two deputy prime
ministers, six ministers and the General State Auditor (REF A). As
in past years, there was only one candidate for each office, despite
vocal requests from many delegates for multiple candidates per
position. Despite the lack of competition, the two new deputy prime
minister candidates were approved by unusually low majorities of
only 58 per cent, Nguyen Sinh Hung, and 66 per cent, Trung Dinh
Trong, respectively (REF A). Nguyen Sy Dzung, a vice chairman in
the Office of the National Assembly (ONA), commented that the low
vote counts indicate that delegates have "become more difficult to
deal with" when it comes to approving the CPV's vetted candidates.
This can be seen as "a sign of improved democracy in terms of the
National Assembly's activities," he said. Nguyen Chi Dzung, a
senior ONA staffer and former Editor-in-Chief of the ONA-affiliated
Legislative Journal, said that the low vote counts, as well as the
deputies' public request for more candidates to be considered for
ranking State and GVN positions, manifestly reflect the NA deputies'
distrust of some new cabinet members, and underscores their "quest
for more democracy" in the system of nominating and approval of GVN
ranking personnel.

3. (SBU) A new feature in the "election process" during this
post-Congress session were speeches made before the National
Assembly by the three candidates for the offices of State President,
Prime Minister and National Assembly Chairman prior to their actual
election. These addresses, though still far removed from campaign
speeches, "aimed to provide delegates with more information about
the candidates before the election took place," according to Vice
Chairman Dzung. He also revealed that the National Assembly
Standing Committee (NASC), in effect the steering committee for the
NA, initially wanted to require all 13 CPV candidates to present
themselves to the Assembly before votes on their candidacy, but had
to moderate this plan when the CPV Politburo decided that it did not
want to set the precedent that Party-nominated candidates may be
scrutinized by NA deputies. Nevertheless, the CPV felt it necessary
to make some allowance for the examination of candidates in the face
of the deputies' continued insistence, thus the compromise of the
three speeches. One of our contacts noted with pleasure that this
gesture placed the three top GVN leaders on a level with common NA
deputies for the very first time, but admitted that the CPV Party
Secretary (who is theoretically at the apex of power in Vietnam) is

still above any NA or even GVN scrutiny.

4. (SBU) In an interview with local newspapers, Vice Chairman Dzung
affirmed that the three new leaders are all supportive of the
renovation (Doi Moi) process. He expressed hope that new State
President Nguyen Minh Triet, a leader who spent many years leading
provincial and municipal administrations, would be able to do more
to speed up judicial reform for the sake of common people. In the
interview, he also noted that new Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung
"meets the necessary criteria to deal with national economic
issues." He hinted, however, that Dzung might be different from
former PM Phan Van Khai, noting that Dzung has "contributed much to
the promotion of economic reform and yet is still loyal to
Marxist-Leninism." In an private conversation with Pol Assistant,
Vice Chairman Dzung explained that PM Dzung tends to be more open to
new ideas and concepts, because of his poor education. However,

HANOI 00001802 002.2 OF 003

owing to his "tolerant background," PM Dzung "is supposed to be not
firm with his ideas, and thus overly subject to the influence of
those around him", he commented. For his part, Ngo Cuong,
Editor-in-Chief of the Supreme People's Court Judicial Journal,
informed Pol Assistant that PM Dzung's police background would
likely make him focus more on security-related issues rather than
economic ones.

5. (SBU) According to Assembly staffer Chi Dzung, although PM Dzung
was the standing Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government,
he has never been seen as a decisive leader. Chi Dzung theorized
that the low vote counts for some of the new Cabinet members
reflected the level of trust in PM Dzung himself among deputies,
which may account for the fact that almost half the NA Deputies did
not vote with the PM on a vote tied to the PMU-18 scandal (REF B) on
his first day in office. Only 56.8 percent of delegates voted to
approve a combined resolution to discharge eight cabinet members
tainted by the scandal, but which let disgraced Transportation
Minister Dao Dinh Binh retire without punishment despite his
Ministry's central role in the affair. During the debate, PM Dzung
claimed that the GVN has developed a consensus approach to resolving
the scandal, but deputies were incensed that he failed to confirm
whether the GVN has actually conducted any formal meetings to
investigate the case or to issue a formal conclusion, Chi Dzung
asserted. (Note: In early June, the Prime Minister issued a formal
reprimand against Binh, blaming his "lack of responsibility" as the
cause of the mismanagement of ODA projects. End Note.)

Grilled Cabinet Members Turn to Party for Help
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) The PMU-18 corruption scandal, in addition to other
significant corruption-related issues, was also high on the
deputies' hit list during the summer session's televised
question-and-answer session, a traditional give-and-take between NA
deputies and State ministers that has featured increasingly
acrimonious and un-scripted exchanges in recent years. In response
to one question, Nguyen Hong Phuc, the Minister of Planning and
Investment, who has been retained from the previous government,
hinted that the scandal may continue to implicate other government
figures as his Ministry is not the only agency responsible for ODA
allocation, and that "we have no idea how much ODA has been
(illegally) siphoned off and by whom." Challenged on the same
subject, Nguyen Sinh Hung, the former Minister of Finance who has
been roundly criticized for his handling of the scandal, responded
obtusely that "the situation might have been different if we had
strictly dealt with the issue of public property usage." (Note:
Hung was ultimately promoted to Deputy Prime Minister at the end of
the NA session as planned by the CPV, but was the recipient of the
58 percent majority noted above, the lowest affirmation vote in
communist Vietnam's history. End Note.)

7. (SBU) In another unusual development, Cabinet members who were
grilled by delegates during the Q-and-A session over their failure
to take action against subordinates with respect to misconduct or
poor performance used the CPV as justification, citing Party and
GVN regulations. Both Minister-Chairman of the Office of the
Government (OOG) Doan Manh Giao and Politburo member-Minister of
Public Security (MPS) Le Hong Anh quoted Party and GVN internal
policies to rationalize their actions in the case of OOG Vice
Chairman Nguyen Van Lam, who received more than USD 10,000 in
kickbacks from various government offices in the south following a
business trip there. (Note: The incident actually took place in
2002, but was recently publicized by the Vietnamese press. Despite
public pressure that a formal investigation be conducted in this
matter, Lam was only asked to forward part of the bribe money to a
fund for the poor and to return the remainder to the originating
offices. End Note). Anh said the MPS did not conduct further
investigations against Lam because "the OOG did not request it" and
cited a formal document issued by the Party's Control Commission
regarding the case. "The MPS will not deal with the case unless the
OOG has conducted their own investigation, determined that it is a
corruption case and requested us to work on it," Anh told deputies.

8. (SBU) Questioned about another well-publicized case, Anh defended
MPS's decision not to prosecute ranking officials from PetroVietnam
who were allegedly involved in corruption in a multi-billion dollar
Russian investment deal. He told delegates that "the investigative
office has the right not to initiate formal investigations against
them" despite laws to the contrary. But, according to Anh, "law
provisions are not good enough regarding specific cases, so we need
to exercise 'flexibility,' not to mention follow certain Party,
State and Government regulations when dealing with (ranking)

9. (SBU) According to both Sy Dzung and Chi Dzung, Anh's "frank
responses" prompted noisy disagreement from NA deputies. Delegate
Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former Secretary of An Giang Province's Party

HANOI 00001802 003.2 OF 003

Committee, argued that since most Cabinet members are also members
to the Party's Central Committee, they should be able to propose any
necessary changes to CPV or GVN regulations so as to ensure strict
implementation of laws and regulations. For his part, outgoing NA
Chairman Nguyen Van An bluntly advised Anh not to mention "the
Party's internal issues" in front of the National Assembly, noting
that CPV policies should not be considered a higher source of
authority than government laws as "the Party's 'guidelines' are
enacted and ultimately the source of those laws." An added that the
conduct of investigative offices "should follow the law."


10. (SBU) This latest NA session underscores that deputies have had
some success in carving out space for the NA as a real organ of
government, at least in asserting the deputies' right to discuss
even the most sensitive aspects of the country's political life. We
should not expect, however that this new outspokenness will
translate into real power for the NA any time soon. Nonetheless, it
is interesting to note that the question of the CPV's position in
Vietnam's society and, by extension, questions about the monopoly of
power by State ministries, seems to be the root of most of the
political issues debated in this session. This is a popular
development that will likely continue despite inevitable CPV and GVN
attempts to rein in the NA in the coming term of government.


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