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The ruling Communist Party today hailed elections for what is expected to be a younger, more dynamic National Assembly.

Sunday's balloting for the 450-seat legislature was a "festival to the Vietnamese people," the party newspaper, the People, said.

Most districts reported a turnout of more than 95 percent, while more than 97 percent cast ballots in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Some 40 million people were eligible to vote.

Vote-counting is done by hand, so final election results will not be announced until Sunday.

But with only 20 percent of its members running for re-election and several leaders retiring, the Assembly is certain to have a younger, fresher face. Many of those who chose not to run for re-election were in their 70s and 80s, while the candidates generally were a decade or two younger.

While few dramatic policy changes are expected, observers say the turnover in the legislature may inject more vigor into the political system and allow for some independent voices to emerge within the party structure.

Although 83 percent of the 663 candidates running for Assembly seats were members of the Communist Party, voters were able to choose among workers, union representatives, educators and others. Non-party candidates were nominated by state-backed organizations or ran as independents.

Sunday's polling was billed as an indirect election of Vietnam's new government leadership, which will be drawn from Assembly ranks after the body convenes in mid-September.

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