By Martin Petty
HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam's Communist Party re-elected Nguyen Phu Trong as its leader on Wednesday, a party source and state media said, a widely expected outcome after the exit from the politburo of the country's powerful prime minister.
The 71-year-old Trong, who analysts see as a party stalwart who will stick to the line on economic reform, was the only candidate nominated by the elite politburo prior to the party's congress, which must endorse the decision on Thursday.
The five-yearly congress, normally considered a dull affair, stirred rare excitement about politics in Vietnam over the prospect of pro-business premier Nguyen Tan Dung, 66, challenging Trong for the leadership.
The politburo's decision to overlook Dung was a surprise twist as Dung's broad support among the party and his stewardship of an economy undergoing major changes saw him tipped by many experts to rise to the party's top post.
Trong is seen by analysts as Dung's adversary and a staunch party stalwart keen to preserve a consensus rule that Dung could have tested with his ambition and popularity among the business elite.
Dung was nominated to join the new central committee but his withdrawal on Monday put paid to speculation of a leadership showdown. Vietnam's leaders must come from within the central committee,
A source familiar with internal affairs of the secretive party confirmed to Reuters Trong's re-election on Wednesday. The party has yet to make an official announcement.
A photograph of Trong holding flowers and flanked by smiling officials was uploaded on to the website of the official Vietnam News Agency, with a caption saying central committee members were congratulating him on being re-elected.
Analysts see Trong as a more conservative apparatchik but expect him to stick to the party's agreed strategy of continued economic reforms and balancing foreign relations as a time when the United States and China are vying for influence.
Trong visited both Beijing and Washington last year.
Dung's exit and Trong's continued role has resulted in some uncertainty about whether Vietnam's economic shakeup would continue at the same pace after a slew of liberal regulations and trade deals were announced last year.
The re-election to the central committee of several key policymakers and ministers of the Dung's government, however, could signal wholesale changes may not ensue.
(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)