June 27, 2006

Vietnam installs younger premier, pushes change

By Grant McCool

HANOI (Reuters) - Economic reformer and career security
officer Nguyen Tan Dung took over on Tuesday as Vietnam Prime
Minister to govern the communist-run country in a period of
accelerated growth and deepening international ties.

Top of a younger generation coming to power, Dung's
confirmation on Tuesday by an open session of the one-party
parliament made him, at 56, the youngest prime minister since
the communists unified Vietnam in 1975 at the end of the U.S.

Dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and light blue tie,
dark-haired bespectacled Dung told deputies that he wanted to
help "bring our country out of backwardness and march forward
together with other countries."

Corruption dogs the ruling Communist Party and in Dung's
first speech to the assembly as premier he confirmed
replacement of the transport minister, whose agency was caught
in a multi-million dollar graft scandal earlier this year.

Other changes such as foreign affairs, defense and finance
will be made later this week as part of a government reshuffle.

High-profile Dung, groomed for the job over eight years as
deputy prime minister to outgoing Phan Van Khai, 72, spoke of
the need to "push up economic reforms, build a law-based
society and an administration clean and close to the people."

He takes office with Vietnam leading Southeast Asia in
economic growth, poised to join the World Trade Organization in
October and balancing friendships with global powers -- its
former enemies the United States and northern neighbor China.


Born in the southernmost province of Ca Mau, Dung came
through party ranks as a security officer and an advocate of
speeding up the 20-year-long process of economic

Gross domestic product expanded 8.4 percent last year and
was targeted at 8 percent this year. But Vietnam remains poor
with per capita annual income of just $640 and most of its 83
million people make a living from agriculture.

The National Assembly also confirmed the appointment of
Nguyen Minh Triet, 63, party chief in the commercial hub of Ho
Chi Minh City, as the country's new president.

On Monday, Hanoi party leader Nguyen Phu Trong, 62, was
chosen as chairman of the Assembly in an era of legal reforms.

The younger leaders of one of the few communist governments
in the world will be on an international stage for the first
time in November when Hanoi hosts the summit of the 21-nation
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Vietnam expert Thomas Vallely said Dung could prove to be
the right man as the party's consensus policy-making may need
to change for the country to modernize and compete globally.

"Amid impressive economic performance there is a tendency
to become complacent and avoid making difficult decisions which
can only result in powerful interests losing out," said
Vallely, head of the Vietnam program at Harvard University's
John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge,

"There is good reason to expect that the new government led
by Nguyen Tan Dung may prove capable of providing the decisive
leadership needed," Vallely said.

The government changes were decided at April's five-yearly
party National Congress but were being formalized by the
assembly this week. Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc
Manh, 65, was re-appointed in April to a second five-year term
to the most powerful post in the Vietnamese system.