HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam's Communist Party re-elected Nguyen Phu Trong to its top post on Wednesday, an expected outcome that bolsters consensus rule but creates some uncertainty about the momentum of economic reform.
Trong, 71, is seen by experts as a conservative apparatchik and a party loyalist unlikely to deviate from the party's economic and foreign policy agenda, at a time when China and the United States are vying aggressively for influence.
The five-yearly congress, normally considered a dull affair, had stirred rare public excitement about politics due to the prospect of a leadership challenge from pro-business premier Nguyen Tan Dung, whom the politburo overlooked in its nominations for key posts. Despite speculation of a tense showdown, Dung chose not to contest.
Trong was the politburo's sole candidate for party chief, clipping the wings of Dung, 66, who had garnered broad party support and cultivated an image as a progressive with his decisive running of a fast-growing economy.
Analysts regard Trong as a party stalwart keen to uphold a collective rule that Dung's ambition and popularity among businessmen could have tested.
Resentment still festers among Dung's party opponents over crises in the banking and state sectors under his two-term premiership, experts say.
Political analyst Nguyen Quang A said Dung's politburo exit was due to personality clashes and the party's consensus rule may not be an impediment as private business booms and the country seeks to integrate globally.
"There are forces outside of the Communist Party that will lead the progress of the country," he said.
"Trong is no strongman, he won't overrule the collective decisions. We can see a lot of younger, Western-educated people now on the party's central committee."
A source familiar with internal affairs of the secretive party confirmed to Reuters Trong's re-election. The congress is due to endorse him on Thursday and announce a new politburo.
The party has not officially announced him retaining the post, although the congress website carried a photograph of Trong holding flowers and flanked by smiling officials, with a caption saying they were congratulating him on being re-elected.
Some investors saw that as a win for the old guard that brings uncertainty about the trajectory of an economy that was spurred last year by a slew of new liberal regulations and Vietnam's accession to multilateral trade pacts.
The re-election to the central committee of some key policymakers and ministers of Dung's government, however, could signal wholesale changes may not take place.
Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Ruth Pitchford