10 Feb 2021
Vietnam Picks Control Over Reform at 13th National Party Congress
By Huong Le Thu
As autocracies age, they hit turning points where they must choose between reform and repression. This isn’t a single decision but a series of cruxes. One such for Vietnam was the 6th National Party Congress in 1986, when the formerly hard-line communist country adopted the Doi Moi (“renovation”) reforms that would allow it to adapt to the post-Soviet world, transforming the centrally planned economy into a “market economy with socialist orientation.” This helped many Vietnamese escape poverty, integrated the nation into the global economy, and increased its national standing. Arguably, the current state of affairs offered another turning point just ahead of its 13th National Party Congress at the end of January. But the initial results of the congress indicate that consolidating party power has been given higher priority than reform.
The elaborately planned, weeklong gathering, held every five years, assembles the highest-level representatives of the party to set policy plans and key leadership roles. The congress concluded a day earlier than planned on Feb. 1 because of the sudden emergence of new COVID-19 cases after months of zero community transmission—and, according to official reports, thanks to a “high-level of consensus and solidarity.”
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