Vietnam News

Vietnam loses its second president in two years amid concerns for political stability

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Vo Van Thuong has resigned after just over a year, as the country continues its ‘blazing furnace’ anti-corruption drive.

Vietnam’s government has announced the resignation of its second president in as many years amid an anti-corruption drive, sparking concerns for the country’s political stability.

President Vo Van Thuong’s alleged “violations and flaws have negatively affected public perception, as well as the reputation of the party and the state”, state media reported on Wednesday, citing an announcement from the Central Committee of the Communist party of Vietnam. No further details of any alleged violations were released.

Thuong held the role of president for just over a year after Nguyen Xuan Phuc, his predecessor, was forced out due to corruption scandals involving officials under his control.

The corruption crackdown, called “blazing furnace” by Vietnam’s general secretary and leader Nguyen Phu Trong, has ensnared thousands of officials ranging from presidents and ministers to low-level bureaucrats.

The position of president in Vietnam is largely ceremonial and ranks third in the country’s political hierarchy. The most powerful position is that of Communist party general secretary, a post held since 2011 by Trong, who is 79.

Rumors of a potential political change flared after a state visit to Vietnam by the Dutch royal family was postponed “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.

Such turnover among high-level leadership is highly unusual in Vietnam and analysts said it could be a cause for concern among companies looking to invest in the country.

“Whatever the reasons, the resignations of two presidents in less than two years is not a good sign for a country often boasting political stability,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at the Vietnam studies programme under the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.

Vietnam is also a prominent investment destination for companies looking to reduce their exposure to China amid Beijing’s tensions with the United States.

“Although the FDI [foreign direct investment] sector has been somewhat insulated from the anti-corruption campaign, the uncertainty might prompt investors to adopt a wait-and-see approach amidst Vietnam’s increasingly unpredictable political landscape,” Giang said.

Thuong’s downfall also raises significant questions about Vietnam’s future leadership, with the next National Congress scheduled for 2026.

“He was seen as a strong contender for the leadership position given his young age and close proximity to General Secretary Trong, so his departure arguably removes a formidable competitor for other candidates,” Giang said. “Nevertheless, this by no means reduces the intensity of the political infighting towards 2026.”

At 54, Thuong was the youngest president in Vietnam’s history.

His resignation makes it clear that the anti-corruption drive is not slowing down, and it is increasingly unclear what the endpoint may be, clouding the near-term future of a country previously known for staid, stable politics.

It could also exacerbate an unintended side-effect of the anti-corruption campaign, in which many officials have decided not to take action on important issues, assuming that doing nothing is safer than approving projects and making a mistake.

The Vietnamese government has acknowledged this problem, with prime minister Pham Minh Chinh frequently urging officials to “dare to think, dare to do”.

Giang said: “It is extremely challenging for the government to deal with the bureaucratic paralysis which is causing so many negative impacts on Vietnam’s economy and society.”

Vietnam’s parliament approved Thuong’s resignation in a closed session at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre news website, and is set to discuss his replacement.

By Michael Tatarski – The Gardian with The Associated Press & Agence France Presse – March 21, 2024

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