Vietnam's vice president becomes interim president

AP , Thursday 21 Mar 2024

Vietnam's Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan will serve as acting president after the previous president's resignation a year into the position, a Communist Party newspaper reported Thursday.

 

Analysts said a permanent candidate was unlikely to be selected soon, underscoring the growing concerns among foreign investors about political instability in the Southeast Asian nation that is a growing manufacturing hub and sits at the middle of the U.S.-China competition for global influence.

Xuan, 54, became vice president in 2021 and she will be serving as acting president for the second time, the Tuoi Tre daily reported.

On Wednesday, President Vo Van Thuong resigned due to unspecified violations that hurt the perception and reputation of the party and the state, the Communist Party said. Thuong's predecessor Nguyen Xuan Phuc had resigned last year to take “political responsibility” for corruption scandals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the violations were not detailed, analysts said the party's language made it clear he was implicated in the anti-corruption campaign.

That the youngest president in Vietnam's modern history, once considered the protege of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, 79, became its shortest-tenured is a “political earthquake,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, an analyst at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

And it is likely to be followed by a “very complicated” succession within the party that'll likely last until the all-important National Congress in 2026 — the party's most important meeting when the successor to the Trong, Vietnam's most powerful politician, will be determined.

The ideologically conservative Trong has held the position since 2011 and Thuong's departure highlights the reach of the anti-corruption drive that has been Trong’s “most important legacy,” Giang added.

Concerns about Trong's health mean the largely ceremonial position of the president is crucial. The position is ranked third in terms of political power but is second in the official hierarchy and in line for the top job, Giang said.

“Until now, no one ... wanted to take the presidency position as it lacked power. But at the same time, that position will put someone in a very good position to run for the next party's leadership position,” he said.

Thuong resigned days after the former head of central Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province was arrested on allegations of corruption that date from Thuong's time as party chief in the province. The former head was part of an investigation into a real estate firm Phuc Son Group for alleged forgery.

The fact that the alleged violations were reported by the Central Inspection Commission, the Communist Party’s mechanism for carrying out the anti-corruption campaign, implied that Thuong was “implicated in the anti-corruption” campaign, Giang said.

Police are investigating two projects by the Phuc Son Group and say they've found evidence of tax evasion of over $14 million, including the redevelopment of an old U.S. air base.

Vietnam has tried to strike a balance between its larger neighbor China and the U.S. while positioning itself as an ideal home for businesses looking to shift their supply chains out of China. Last year, it was the only country that received both President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping on state visits.

The newly disclosed investigation is part of an anti-corruption drive Trong has described as a “blazing furnace,” and it has meant greater power for both state and party enforcement agencies. It also has helped cement the top leader’s authority, but Giang said party factions have also sought to use it to purge rivals.

Analysts have warned that the anti-corruption drive has hurt Vietnam’s business environment, making foreign investors jittery about unpredictable economic policies.

Rumors of a potential political change flared after a state visit to Vietnam by the Dutch royal family was postponed due to “due to domestic circumstances,” according to a statement from the Dutch Royal house. The World Bank president likewise put off a visit planned for this week.

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