Vietnam Communist Party to nominate new president next week

HANOI (Bloomberg): The top brass of Vietnam’s Communist Party will gather next week to nominate a new president following the abrupt resignation of Nguyen Xuan Phuc (pic) last month over revelations of widespread graft during his time as prime minister, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.

The 172-member Central Committee will assemble in Hanoi next week for an extraordinary session to choose a candidate said the people, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorised to speak to the press. The National Assembly is then expected to rubber-stamp the choice as early as March 1.

The president is one of the nation’s top four political positions, with the most powerful role being the general secretary of the party.

That position has been held since 2011 by Nguyen Phu Trong, who is seeking to groom a successor to carry on his conservative agenda before he retires by the next party congress in 2026.

Trong, 78, is serving an unprecedented third term that has been marked by a push to stamp out corruption in one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

The years-long anti-graft effort has ensnared hundreds of officials, with Phuc the biggest name yet to fall.

Phuc said he assumed "political responsibility” for the "violations and shortcomings” involving graft related to a manufacturer of Covid-19 test kits and repatriation flights, cases that also prompted the ouster of two deputy premiers.

Government officials didn’t answer several phone calls seeking comment.

Among the favourites to take over the presidency is two-term Politburo member Vo Van Thuong. At 52, he is the youngest permanent member of the Central Committee’s Secretariat, and holds the No. 5 position in the state hierarchy. Gaining the presidency would be a potential springboard for Thuong to ultimately take the top job.

Analysts say he’s the highest-ranked member supported by Trong to potentially succeed him.

Thuong caused ripples in Vietnam in December when he said there needed to be pressure within the Communist Party and Vietnamese society to force those guilty of corruption to resign. His comment was reported in state-run media a day before the two deputy prime ministers were removed from the Central Committee.

The removal of Phuc, once seen as a contender for party chief until he lost out in a reshuffle two years ago, underlines the sudden shifting fortunes of major players in the party.

Like China, Vietnam is a one-party communist state without direct national elections and much of what happens in government can be opaque. Corruption purges generally lack transparency and some observers consider them a way to oust rivals and clear the way for allies to take key positions.

In addition to choosing a president, the Central Committee is expected to announce two new Politburo members next month to replace Phuc and former deputy prime minister Pham Binh Minh.

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