Manh seen as reform-leaning pragmatist
By Dominic Whiting
HANOI, April 18 (Reuters) - The man expected to lead Vietnam for the next five years, Nong Duc Manh, is seen as a pragmatist leaning towards the reformist camp who can move the country into the 21st century without alienating the ruling Communist Partys old-guard.
Widely rumoured to be the illegitimate son of late revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh, the 61-year-old former forestry official has served since 1992 as National Assembly chairman, and is number four in the outgoing 18-member politburo.
If he is confirmed in the post of secretary-general at the formal public session of a five-yearly party congress starting on Thursday and running for four days, he would became Vietnams first ever leader from an ethnic minority background.
His appointment will be seen in part as an attempt by the party to portray a more sensitive attitude to Vietnams 54 minority groups after recent ethnic protests in the Central Highlands that were the worst to hit the country in years.
But the outside world will be looking most keenly for evidence of Manhs apparent reformist leanings and the apparent contrast with the conservatism of Le Kha Phieu, who he is expected to replace.
GOOD MANAGER AND ADMINISTRATOR
Diplomats and other observers say Manhs experience of political reform - overseeing the conversion of the National Assembly from a rubber stamp to a more influential legislative body -- should put him in good stead to oversee an ambitious economic programme set for the next decade.
They say that by avoiding identifying too closely with any of the partys different factions, Manh appeared to have the stature needed to move ahead with the governments declared aim of nurturing private enterprise.
Seen as a good manager and administrator, he will be greeted favourably, at least initially, by foreign investors and governments hoping to see greater economic reform and trade liberalisation.
Manh was born into an ethnic Tay family in 1940 in the northern province of Bac Can and rumours have long circulated that he is the illegitimate son of Ho Chi Minh, communist Vietnams revered founder, who died in 1969.
He has not gone out of his way to reject the suggestion, which does not seem to have harmed his progression through the party ranks. Once asked bluntly by former Australian ambassador Sue Boyd whether the rumour was true, his answer was described as "noncommittal."
Manh began his working life at the Forestry Department and later graduated from the Institute of Forest Technology in Leningrad in the former Soviet Union, where like many other members of Vietnams communist elite, he learned Russian.
He went on to hone his party credentials at the Nguyen Ai Quoc School, a bastion of revolutionary ideology.
From 1972 to 1986, Manh worked his way up through his provincial forestry service, peoples committee and party committee.
He eventually became a full member of the powerful central committee in 1989.
In 1989, Manh took over the central committees Commission of Nationalities and became a member of the National Assembly, where he served as vice-chair of the Council of Nationalities, helping to fashion policy on ethnic minorities.
At the seventh party congress in 1991, Manh was appointed to the politburo as its youngest and only ethnic minority member. He became chairman of the National Assembly the following year.