Vietnam adopts leader confidence polls

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Vietnam's top leaders, including its prime minister and president, will face confidence polls by legislators next year that could trigger their dismissal as part of a new regulation passed one month after the head of the Communist Party apologized for officials' mistakes.

The 499 members of the National Assembly approved a framework allowing delegates to express "high confidence," "confidence" or "low confidence" in the officials they appoint, according to a posting on the government's website. Consecutive annual "low confidence" ratings from more than half the legislature will trigger a no-confidence vote, according to the posting.

A low confidence vote from two-thirds of delegates or more will bring an instant no-confidence vote. If a majority of legislators express no confidence in the leader during the voting, then the authorities responsible for that leader's appointment can dismiss him, according to the new regulation.

The National Assembly's month-long gathering comes at a time of increased political uncertainty in Vietnam. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong cited an unidentified senior leader when he apologized for "big mistakes" made by the Politburo and Party secretariat in a televised address on Oct. 15 at the conclusion of the party's sixth plenum.

"The National Assembly is performing its role at a time when there is great concern all across the country, along with the political elite, about the prime minister's handling of the economy and its defects," Carl Thayer, professor of politics at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said by telephone ahead of the assembly's gathering. "The introduction of the confidence vote would be a step toward empowering the National Assembly. It's a step toward regaining the public trust."

Votes next year

The first confidence votes will be held next year after 95 percent of the legislature approved the framework, according to the government's website. The annual appraisals will be based on the results of officials' work, and their "morality and lifestyle." The confidence votes will "make National Assembly members more responsible and ensure the stability and efficiency of the government's operations," the government said.

Dung faced calls for a confidence vote in the National Assembly at the end of 2010 over his handling of Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group, or Vinashin, the state-run firm that he championed and that almost collapsed under $4 billion of debt that year. The vote was never held and Dung accepted responsibility for the company's "shortcomings" in a televised broadcast. The National Assembly is the highest ranking organization of the state.

"˜Culture of resignation'

National Assembly delegates asked the Prime Minister to introduce a "culture of resignation" and provide specific measures to restructure the economy in a session broadcast live on state television Nov. 14. Dung said he would never "say no to any tasks assigned to me by the party," referring to his appointment by the country's communist leadership. He acknowledged failings in management of state-owned companies during an address to the National Assembly the same day.

"I think there has been a lot of movement to make the National Assembly more open, more interesting and more competitive, but all of this serves a role for the current leaders," said Eddy Malesky, associate professor of political economy at Duke University. "These institutional changes are real and important, but they always emerge because of elite disagreement. After their creation, they have real meaning and you will see political actors use them. But there is always a real underlying power relationship that generates these types of advances."

Slowing growth

Vietnam is on course for its slowest annual economic expansion since 1999 as efforts to rein in soaring inflation trimmed credit growth and spurred business closures. The government is targeting economic growth of 5.2 percent in 2012, which would extend the longest streak of sub-7 percent growth since the doi moi, or renovation, reforms opened the country's economy in 1986. The country's fragile banking system will act as drag on the economy and stop growth from accelerating to 6.5 percent or 7 percent, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. economist Matt Hildebrandt.

Pledged foreign direct investment to Vietnam fell 25 percent in the first 10 months of 2012, according to the government. FDI inflows rose more than 31 percent in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2011 and an estimated 89 percent in neighboring Myanmar, compared with a 7 percent drop in Vietnam, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The National Assembly is the only body in Vietnam with constitutional and legislative powers, according to Bristol University professor Martin Gainsborough in his 2010 book, "Vietnam: Rethinking the State." Members of the National Assembly are appointed through national elections held every five years.

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