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'Hot news from the Super League!': How Vietnam skirts Party speculation ban on social media

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese are trading fake weather reports and football scores on social media as a creative means to discuss Communist Party leadership wrangling after an official ban on speculation ahead of the Party’s biggest and most important meeting in five years.

At its 13th National Congress, due to be held later this month, the Communist Party will formally select a new chief, national president, prime minister and National Assembly chair for the next five years.

The main candidates are all widely known in Hanoi’s political circles, but were officially declared top secret in December to discourage potentially critical debate. The Communist Party of Vietnam retains tight control of media and tolerates little criticism.

“Hot news about the Vietnam Super League!” wrote Le Nguyen Huong Tra, a prominent Facebook user.

“Under Team Dong Anh’s command ... the proposed senior leaders of the Football Federation for the upcoming 2021-2025 term will be as follows...,” Tra said, presumably referring to Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who comes from a district of Hanoi called Dong Anh, and his allies. Tra stopped short of listing names.

Trong has presided over an intensified crackdown on dissidents and activists in Vietnam since being re-elected by the Party in 2016.

The occupants of the “Yellow House”, Tra added, could be Team Quang Nam, the home province of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is looking to either retain his position or climb Party ranks. “Yellow House” refers the presidential palace, a colonial-era mansion in Hanoi, painted in bright yellow.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles inquiries from foreign media, was unable to immediately confirm if such posts, if interpreted as such, would constitute a breach of official secrets.

Other posts designed to circumvent the ban have been based on weather forecasts. By predicting temperatures matching the last two numbers of vehicle registration plates from certain provinces, social media users have sought to indicate top officials from those provinces that they believe are on the rise.

In other posts, agricultural produce has been the vehicle of choice for political predictions.

“Ben Tre Coconuts will go home”, said Thuan Van Bui, an online honey salesman, in an apparent reference to the current National Assembly chair, who is from Ben Tre - a Mekong Delta province famous for its coconuts.

Bui signed off his post with a reference to honey, the word for which in Vietnamese sounds the same as the word for ‘secret’.

“This information may be considered ‘Top Secret’, but my honey is ‘Top Tasty’,” he wrote.

Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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