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Monday, 29 December, 1997, 12:39 GMT
Vietnam: changing of the guard

The communist Party in Vietnam has elected a new general secretary. He is the army's chief political commissar, General Le Kha Phieu, who is widely regarded as a conservative. Judy Stowe looks at the changing of the guard in Vietnam.

Like feudal monarchs in the old days or 20th century despots, communist leaders have often hung on to power until they died, irrespective of their age, state of health or mental ability.

In Vietnam this trend was ended in 1991 when Nguyen Van Linh after only four and a half years as Party General Secretary retired voluntarily at the age of 72.

But the surprise was that he was then succeeded by Do Muoi who was already 74.

Now at the age of 80 Do Muoi has finally acknowledged it is time for him to follow the example set a few weeks ago by Nelson Mandela in South Africa by stepping down.

Do Muoi has after all led a very active life. He is said to have joined the Party in the 1930s when still a teenager and operated clandestinely against the French from then until the Geneva Agreement in 1954.

He acquired a reputation as a political commissar in charge of putting an end to private trade first in Hai Phong and then Hanoi.

In 1978 he played the same role in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

During the intervening 20 years Do Muoi's career was fairly obscure and much of it apparently clouded by ill health.

That made it all the more surprising that, as a man in his seventies and with little knowledge of the world outside Vietnam, he should have become Party General Secretary in 1991.

Still he has to be congratulated that he has at last followed the international trend in retiring to enjoy his old age.

Yet his succeessor needs to bear in mind that the majority of the population of Vietnam these days is under the age of 25 and has no personal experience of war, let alone of the revolution.

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