The relief within the Vietnamese Politburo must have been palpable. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, along with another 46 officials escaped censure in the country’s first-ever confidence vote. But the results were hardly a ringing endorsement of their leadership.
Under the three-tier vote, announced last year after a scathing review of Dung’s government by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), Dung scrapped in after 160 members in the 498-seat National Assembly cast a “low confidence” vote on his performance.
A further 122 votes of “confidence” and 210 votes of “high confidence” were also cast. The remaining members of the National Assembly did not vote. If an official receives two-thirds or more than half of the potential “low confidence” votes for two consecutive years, then he or she could be asked to resign.
Introduction of the annual vote was announced last year after an extended meeting of the all-powerful Central Committee was called amid widespread dissatisfaction with Dung’s performance. The Politburo later accepted collective guilt, but Dung escaped censure.
The confidence vote was widely seen as an attempt to placate public anger over the parlous state of the Vietnamese economy and widespread corruption by making officials more accountable. Last year, Transparency International ranked Vietnam a lowly 123 out of 176, on its corruption index.
The vote of confidence was praised in the official media but slammed by bloggers and pro-democracy advocates who noted that a “no confidence” vote was not an option. Critics asserted that the new measures are a cynical attempt by the CPV to tighten its grip on power in Hanoi, where it has held court since 1954.
Dung was elected as prime minister in 2006 and four years later faced calls for a confidence vote as the economy went into a nose dive. His connections with senior figures from the Asia Commercial Bank, the country’s biggest private-owned bank, and the Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry (Vinashin), which piled up debts of US$4.5 billion, were prominent concerns.
Nevertheless, he was re-elected by the CPV to a second five-year term last July. In in October, Dung was hauled before the Central Committee, where he escaped censure. But the confidence vote was announced soon after.
All 47 officials who faced the vote secured the 50 percent support needed to avoid possible future disciplinary action. National Assembly Vice Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan fared well, picking up 372 "high confidence” votes, while President Truong Tan Sang also did well, outperforming Dung with 330 "high confidence" votes.
These results will likely fuel further speculation of a widening factional split within the CPV.
However, the mood over at the State Bank was probably a bit more somber after Governor Nguyen Van Binh notched-up the worst performance, registering 209 “low confidence” votes. His position will no doubt come under more intense scrutiny.