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Vietnam president resigns, deepening political uncertainty

BANGKOK (Straits Times/ANN) -- Vietnam’s Communist Party on March 20 accepted President Vo Van Thuong’s resignation, deepening the political uncertainty in a country where top officials have been ensnared in corruption crackdowns.

Mr Vo Van Thuong. --Photo VNA/VNS

According to Vietnamese media outlet VnExpress, Mr Thuong will also step down from his position as member of the Politburo, the highest body of the party, and member of the party’s central committee.
The committee said in a statement that Mr Thuong had breached party regulations and his “violations and flaws have negatively affected public perception, as well as the reputation of the party and the state”.
Vietnam’s National Assembly is likely to name his replacement during an extraordinary session on March 21. The current Vice-President is Ms Vo Thi Anh Xuan.
Mr Thuong’s resignation comes less than two years after his predecessor Nguyen Xuan Phuc stepped down in January 2023, ostensibly to take responsibility for top level corruption that took place under his watch as prime minister during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Phuc had been president for just 21 months.
That debacle had been preceded by the ousting of two deputy prime ministers, Mr Pham Binh Minh and Mr Vu Duc Dam, over inflated prices of Covid-19 test kits and bribes that Vietnamese were asked to pay in order to get on flights home during the pandemic.
The presidential shake-up is taking place at the same time as the high-profile trial of Truong My Lan, the chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, who is accused of masterminding a plot that siphoned off 304 trillion dong (S$16.5 billion) from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank. Prosecutors on March 19 called for the death penalty to be handed to her.
Mr Thuong’s resignation is believed to be linked to a bribery scandal involving Vietnamese real estate developer Phuc Son that occurred when he was party secretary of Quang Ngai province from 2011 to 2014.
Dr Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, called Mr Thuong’s resignation a “very big shock to the Vietnamese political system, which normally is prised for its political stability”.
While the presidency is a largely ceremonial position, it is the second-highest position in Vietnam’s political hierarchy where party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong sits at the apex.
Mr Trong, 79, who won an unprecedented third term in 2021, is the chief architect of the so-called “blazing furnace” crackdown on corruption.
Mr Thuong’s departure will likely disrupt political succession plans, Dr Giang told The Straits Times.
At 53 years old, Mr Thuong was the youngest member of the Politburo. He was seen as very close to Mr Trong and a strong contender to take over the leadership position. “His downfall, of course, will send shockwaves to many factions within the political system and probably indicate the fact that the anti-corruption campaign has no limits,” said Dr Giang.
Analysts also expect Mr Thuong’s resignation to worsen the bureaucratic paralysis brought on by Vietnam’s years-long crackdown on graft.
Officials have been known to be wary of approving projects for fear of being investigated for irregularities. This has held up the issuance of licences and other permits, hampering economic activity at a time when the country is trying to regain traction after the pandemic.
In the first nine months of 2023, for example, the disbursement of public investment reached only 51 percent of the planned amount, and the government urged officials to clear these bottlenecks in order to speed up economic growth.
“Although the party has released some regulations to protect bureaucrats who did something wrong unintentionally and relieve them of criminal responsibility, any rational person inside the system would potentially know that no one is safe,” said Dr Giang.
“This would worsen the bureaucratic paralysis and make it really hard for the government under Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to reverse this trend,” he added.

(Latest Update March 22, 2024)

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