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July 26, 2017

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Vietnam premier survives scrutiny

HANOI -- Vietnam's embattled premier has survived a key Communist Party meeting that exposed the regime to rare scrutiny, provoking a backlash Tuesday from the country's increasingly bold political bloggers.

In an attempt to deflect increasing online criticism of a string of scandals that have touched the country's leadership, Vietnam's secretive political mandarins issued an unusual rebuke against their own performance.

The 14-member politburo — the party's key decision-making body — "seriously criticized themselves and honestly admitted their mistakes," party leader Nguyen Phu Trong said in a speech on Monday.

But the communist chiefs stopped short of punishing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, 62.

Bloggers have accused him of greed, cronyism and economic mismanagement. The authorities have responded with a crackdown on dissent and three high-profile bloggers were recently jailed for up to 12 years for anti-state propaganda.

The party's 175-member Central Committee decided not to impose disciplinary measures "for the whole politburo and a member of the politburo," party boss Trong said after a meeting that lasted for almost two weeks, in what was seen as a thinly veiled reference to Dung.

The committee urged the party "to repair shortcomings and weaknesses in order to build a purer, stronger, truly revolutionary party that has flesh-and-blood links with the people," he added.

Despite the unusual self-criticism, Dung's position appears secure for now, observers said.

"The Vietnamese prime minister has been sharply censured by the Communist Party politburo but has retained his post," said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the consultancy firm IHS Global Insight.

"There is now considerable political pressure on the Vietnamese government to stabilise their economy and take urgent measures to resolve their domestic banking sector crisis," he added.

Rising public dissatisfaction — expressed through an increasingly spirited political blogosphere — has put Dung under growing pressure over corruption and the country's deepening economic malaise.

Bloggers, a hugely popular news source in the heavily-censored one-party state, expressed strong disappointment that the communist chiefs did not do more to hold leaders to account for their missteps.

The party "has missed a huge opportunity," said prominent blogger Osin Huy Duc.

"The (premier) was again given the power by the central committee. But it's the sort of power that was gained by turning one's back against the people."

Fellow blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh credited the party with "a step towards democracy."

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