Vietnam's leadership knows that the country's faltering economy needs strong medicine, but the selection of an aging conservative as its new prime minister shows how hard and slow the cure will be.

The Communist Party onWednesday chose Do Muoi, 71, to head the government in its battle against a litany of woes: 700 percent inflation, serious food shortages, uncontrolled population growth, unemployment and international isolation caused by Vietnam's continued occupation of Cambodia.Muoi quickly promised to back wide-ranging reforms meant to pull the country out of its downward economic spiral, Radio Hanoi said Thursday.

In choosing Muoi, the party took the most senior man available, responding to urges that seem to come more from traditional Confucian respect for age than Marxist ideology.

Passed over was the younger economic reformer, Vo Van Kiet, 66, who had served as acting prime minister following the death of Prime Minister Pham Hung in March.

Although Muoi was vice prime minister in charge of key economic ministries, the selection of the conservative communist appears to contrast with the political and economic reforms being pushed by top party leader Nguyen Van Linh.

But it has become clear that the Communist Party, the only organization capable of attacking the problems, is itself the country's first and biggest problem.

The choice of Muoi is likely to reassure the party's conservatives who fear socialist ideology is being forgotten in the rush to reform.

The tough disciplinarian may also be necessary to cut away at the corruption and inefficiency of the party bureaucracy.

"Many deviant and degenerate elements have taken advantage of loopholes in our management system to make personal profits," Muoi wrote in an angry article last year.

"They have corrupted many cadres, party members and state employees," he wrote.

Linh's economic reforms have scored some successes, but most have been stifled by midlevel party bureaucrats who fear their power will slip away in any drive for accountability and efficiency.