Vietnamese PM Reiterates Intent to Step Down

Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has repeated his intention to step down in favor of a younger man. Mr. Khai spoke at the opening of the country's National Assembly, where his expected successor, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, was unusually visible.

The expectation that Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will be given the top government job was reinforced at the opening of the National Assembly Tuesday, when he delivered the speech outlining the country's socioeconomic development plan. That speech is normally given by the prime minister.

But Dung's designation as successor to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai is not yet official, as Tran Quoc Thuan, vice chairman of the National Assembly Office, explained.

Thuan says the new prime minister, president and other high-ranking leaders will be determined by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, at its meeting on the 27th and 28th of May. He says that only after the new leaders are approved by the Central Committee will the National Assembly have the chance to vote on them.

Mr. Khai is 71-years-old. Nguyen Tan Dung is 56, and has been mentioned as a possible future prime minister ever since the 1990's. In 1996, he became the youngest member ever appointed to the all-powerful party Politburo. The following year he became a deputy prime minister, and in 1998 he took over as governor of Vietnam's state bank.

He also served in the military and the Ministry of Public Security early in his career. Analysts say such connections add to his political strength.

Mr. Khai and Dung are both southerners. Dung comes from Vietnam's southernmost province of Ca Mau. His becoming prime minister would help preserve the traditional geographical balance among Vietnam's top leadership, as Communist Party General-Secretary Nong Duc Manh is from the country's rural north.