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Vietnamese 'Princelings' Rise, Sparking Debate

FILE - Nguyen Thanh Nghi, left, pictured with Vietnamese Vice Minister of National Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha in 2011, has become one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in Vietnam at age 39.

Critics are asking whether Communist Party's election process should be freer and more transparent and allow participation of public.

Some prominent children of high-ranking Vietnamese officials, including those of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, have been elected by Vietnam’s Communist Party members to key positions in provinces and municipalities, sparking debate about the role of "princelings."

Vietnamese media reported that Nguyen Thanh Nghi, Dung’s eldest son, has become one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in Vietnam at age 39. His younger brother, Nguyen Minh Triet, was also selected to be a member of the party committee of Binh Dinh province.

The development has sparked a heated debate on social media in Vietnam about whether the election process should be freer and more transparent and allow participation of the public.

Facing harsh public criticism, Vietnamese officials quickly responded that such promotions were conducted in accordance with “guidelines and administrative procedures” and were a “positive move.”

Journalist-turned-blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who was once imprisoned for speaking out against Vietnamese officials, disagreed. He said the sudden rise of young and inexperienced officials showed an unhealthy development in Vietnamese politics.

“It is uncertain that they would be elected if they had not been kids of senior officials," he said. "The public should be pleased with the appointment of young officials, but instead, they are outraged as it is an unfair and [nontransparent] process.”

As the result, Nhat said, the public “loses trust in the authorities."

Officials' uncertainty

Current affairs analyst Pham Chi Dung said the rise of officials' offspring indicated fighting within the party, "as well as the feeling of uncertainty of Vietnamese officials. Vietnam’s history shows that if the political [situation] is stable, they feel no need of pushing their children to different positions."

Nguyen Quang A, former director of the Vietnam Institute of Development Studies, said having young officials can be good in a democracy, "but there are many other criteria that are more important than being young. With healthy competition and a transparent election, it’s really a good sign when a young face is elected. But in authoritarian countries, that criterion does not tell anything. Look at North Korea, with a very young leader, Kim Jong Un. It’s a reason for concern.”

The new Vietnamese officials could not be reached for comment. But Nguyen Xuan Anh, son of former Politburo member Nguyen Van Chi and the newly elected party chief of the central city of Da Nang, told local reporters that he was under great pressure to take the new job.

Meanwhile, Nghi, the son of the prime minister, was cited as saying that “family tradition and personal effort” contributed to his rise in the Communist Party.

The development comes as the Vietnamese Communist Party gears up for its 12th party congress in early 2016. That gathering is expected to select the country's next top leaders.

Khánh An contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.