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Generally, the leaders of communist countries hold both state & party positions, making them both de facto and de jure leaders (e.g. Raúl Castro is both President of Cuba and First Secretary of the Communist Party, Xí Jìnpíng is both President of the PRC and General Secretary of the CCP, etc.). This is often because the diplomatic and propaganda benefits of de jure positions are appealing to de facto leaders.

This general rule, however, has a glaring exception in Vietnam, where the Party General Secretary and de facto leader ( Nguyễn Phú Trọng) power, holds no state positions whatsoever. The president and prime minister, while clearly high up, do not at all approach his power. This phenomenon did not start with Nguyễn; as far as I can tell, every Vietnamese leader since Hồ Chí Minh has abstained from taking state positions.

Why does Vietnam stand out from other Communist countries in this way?

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    If someone with sufficient reputation could create and add the "Vietnam" tag, I would greatly appreciate it. – user15034 Jul 9 '17 at 17:47
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    There are other historical examples of communist leaders being content with being "just" the general secretary of The Party (which usually is the most powerful position in a one-party dictatorship). Stalin, for example, was the de-facto leader of the USSR for 30 years while he was the "official" head of state for only 12 of those years. – Philipp Jul 9 '17 at 21:04
  • @Philipp Yes, but every Soviet Leader after that held state positions in addition to their Party post. Once the "precedent" of both positions was established, the party heads in the USSR tended to drift towards the official positions. On the other hand, Hồ Chí Minh served in both capacities, yet his successors chose to abstain from this practice. That's why I'm curious – user15034 Jul 9 '17 at 22:18
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    @suitvertices another example: Brezhnev. "De facto" leader (in your terms) - 18 years, "de jure" - 9 years. – Pavel Mayorov Jul 10 '17 at 12:15
  • @PavelMayorov But that was during the time of Collective leadership, when the positions were spread out—once Podgorny was out of the way, he grabbed the position (that at least is my understanding—I am certainly no expert, so please correct me if I'm wrong) – user15034 Jul 10 '17 at 17:45
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I'm not sure that there needs to be any more profound answer to this question than "tradition." Once someone does something in politics in a particular way, others tend to follow that precedent without a good reason to do otherwise.

Having a top communist party official who did not hold governmental office worked for early communist leaders in Vietnam (and honestly, there haven't been all that many so this is really just the decision of a dozen individuals, only seven of whom have served in the top party position since the single party regime in Vietnam was established), and so those who followed did the same.

As noted in the comments, both Stalin and Brezhnev were precedents for having a communist party leader who did not hold a governmental office in the USSR's regime that was a model for the regime in Vietnam. And, by the end of Brezhnev's rule in 1982, after which later Soviet leaders decided to hold state positions as well, Vietnam had already started to develop its own traditions and political precedents. The fact that the Communist Party in Vietnam expressly conceptualized itself as Stalinist rather than merely Communist, probably made the example of Stalin who ruled the USSR without holding a governmental office for many years, particularly salient.

And, of course, as the examples of the USSR and Vietnam demonstrate, it is perfectly feasible in a single party state for a party leader to run the country from behind the scenes without actually holding a governmental office. Further, this arrangement frees the party leader to focus on policy and political priorities without being burdened by the day to day tedium and inconveniences and responsibilities of a governmental official (and equally important without the transparency that a governmental official must have in terms of following formal and usually public processes).

The party leader is not normatively pressured to attend state dinners and funerals of VIPs, and dedications of new public buildings, etc. if the party leader doesn't want to, while a head of state would be expected to do such things.

  • @ohwileke I think there's a very good chance that you're right. However, I can't accept this (or similar ones), as likely as they are to be correct, without some recourse to academic sources from scholarship regarding Vietnam on there being this tradition—otherwise, it's just speculation (albeit quite good speculation) – user15034 Jul 11 '17 at 22:44

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