Do Muoi, Vietnam’s Leader in Economic Transition, Dies at 101

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Do Muoi, a Vietnamese revolutionary who served for six years as the country’s leader during its transition to a market economy under a Communist government, died on Monday in Hanoi. He was 101.

His death, at the National Military Hospital, was announced by the government. “Comrade Do Muoi had gone through various working positions and made great contributions to the revolutionary cause of the Party and nation,” the announcement said.

Mr. Do Muoi was the Communist Party’s general secretary from 1991 to 1997. One Vietnamese news report of his death called him “a prime example of a steadfast communist.”

But he also pushed through difficult economic reforms in the wake of Vietnam’s disastrous attempt to impose a command economy after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Mr. Do Muoi was general secretary during the crucial years of Vietnam’s transition from communism to the economic liberalization called “doi moi,” generally translated as “renovation,” which unleashed a burst of pent-up energy in free enterprise.

In a process known in China as “peaceful evolution,” Vietnam hesitantly opened its markets and encouraged free enterprise while maintaining the party’s grip on political and economic affairs.

At a party congress in 1996, when he was named to a second term as general secretary, Mr. Do Muoi spoke to foreign reporters of the need to accelerate economic reforms while maintaining party control.

“Slow development means hunger, don’t you think?” he said. “But at the same time, I want to see efficiency and stability.”

He added: “If reform is too fast, we will make mistakes. If you run too fast and there is something in the road, you may fall down.”

At the time, 80 percent of Vietnam’s mostly rural population of 75 million remained poor.

In addition to economic reforms, the government was preoccupied with endemic corruption, which has resisted repeated campaigns for reform.

“As long as governments exist, corruption will exist,” Mr. Do Muoi said. “It is an illness of government, and it can be cured only by the people. It will be severely punished, even by execution, no matter what position the person was holding.”

Born Nguyen Duy Cong in 1917 in Hanoi, Mr. Do Muoi joined the movement to oust French colonial rule when he was 19. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1939.

He described his family as “poor for many generations.” His official biography makes no mention of formal education.

Information about survivors was not released.

In 1941 Mr. Do Muoi was arrested by the French and sentenced to 10 years in prison in Hanoi. He escaped four years later and rejoined the revolution.

He rose through the ranks of the party and the government and joined the ruling Politburo in 1982. He was appointed prime minister in 1988 before being elevated to general secretary of the party three years later.

He was the last member of the wartime old guard to hold a top leadership post. Since he left office Vietnam has been in the hands of men who came of age after the war.

Because of a deadlock in the succession when his first term came to an end, his tenure was briefly extended in 1996, delaying the transition to a new generation of leaders. At the time, the average age of the 170-member central committee was 65.

Mr. Do Muoi was buoyant about his new lease on life when he spoke to reporters during a lull in the party meeting that voted him a second term.

“They will not let me rest!” he said happily as a clutch of foreign reporters surrounded him. “I am almost 80 and I am still young!”

As if to demonstrate his youth and vigor, he lavished special attention on a young female reporter.

“Are you married?” he said when she asked a question about party politics. “Would you like to have a Vietnamese husband?”

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Do Muoi, 101; Led Vietnam’s Transition
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