The current week of mourning in Vietnam, proclaimed after the passing March 30 of President Ton Duc Thang, opens the way for a major reorganization of the country's leadership.
Any such changes will come amid mounting evidence that Vietnam is still troubled by an anticommunist resistance and that black marketeering, corruption, and even prostitution are still significant problems, especially in the south.
But neither internal problems nor any reshuffling of the leadership are expected to produce major policy shifts. There is a high degree of consensus among senior Vietnamese on the country's policies toward Cambodia, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
President Thang, a southerner who took over after the 1969 death of Ho Chi Minh, played a largely ceremonial role in the formation of a new constitution, expected by some to take effect later in April. Under the new constitution the president would no longer be a figurehead.Instead he would be chairman of the powerful policymaking Council of State (or Presidium). This post is expected by some to eventually go to Communist Party Secretary General Le Duan or Premier Pham Van Dong.
If Party Secretary General Le Duan does eventually don a second hat -- that of chairman of the Council of State -- Vietnam's practice would be brought into line with that of the Soviet Union and East Germany.
In the meantime, before the new constitution is implemented, President Thang is expected to be succeeded by Vice-President Nguyen Huu Tho, one of the few southerners high up in the Vietnamese leadership. Lawyer Tho formerly headed the National Liberation Front (sometimes called Viet Cong) of South Vietnam.
With implementation of a new constitution, some observers expect Premier Pham Van Dong to either retire or take over as chairman of the Council of State. One source has suggested that Defense Minister Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap would move up to become premier. The general, architect of military victories over both the French and the Americans, would thus become perhaps Vietnam's most powerful figure.
Any new leadership arrangement will have to face a continuing and perhaps mounting internal security problem, as well as corruption, black-marketing, and prostitution in the south.
Last month Vietnam's press reported the sentencing of prisoners accused of leading an anticommunist resistance movement in the southern cities of Hue and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Sources in Hanoi are quoted by the French news agency Agence France Presse as saying the situation is still shaky in southern Vietnam's central highlands. A noncommunist diplomat is quoted as saying that the road between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalet was closed at night and that he had heard firing in neighboring mountains.
Hanoi residents also report a thriving black market for foreign made products. Examples of petty bribery abound. Part of the problem is low salaries, which range from $30 to $175 a month. This means Vietnamese must often find illegal ways of making ends meet.
In a recent Hanoi-published interview, Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Khac Vien gave insights into the problems of the South.
"Food rations are small, shortages are many and serious, the black market continues, youths can be seen hanging around in cafes, and it must be admitted that there are still some young women soliciting in the street, public servants who take backhanders [bribes] and armed attacks by gangsters, as well as by pro-Chinese or pro-American agents," he declared.
But he added: "In spite of the occasional armed attack and frequent robberies , you can move around safely in the city, even in the evening, with no more risk than in any American city."