Tough job ahead for former top cop now set to be Vietnam's new president; main job to calm down investors

HANOI (AFP): Vietnam's Communist Party has nominated public security minister To Lam to be the country's new president, state media said Saturday, after his predecessor resigned as part of a sweeping anti-graft purge.

Thousands of people -- including top officials and senior business leaders -- have been caught up in the South-East Asian country's "blazing furnace" crackdown on graft, led by Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

The party's central committee agreed to "the nomination of Comrade To Lam, Politburo member, Minister of Public Security to be elected as President", the Vietnam News Agency reported.

Unprecedentedly for one-party nation once known for its stable politics, two state presidents and a parliament speaker have stepped down in less than 18 months, all for unspecified "wrongdoing" amid a major anti-graft campaign which is unnerving foreign investors because of its chilling effect on bureaucracy.

Lam, 66, has been public security minister since 2016 and a former top cop and a career police officer, has taken a hard line on human rights movements in the communist country.

His nomination follows Vo Van Thuong's resignation in March after just one year as president, becoming the latest high-profile leader to fall in the anti-corruption drive.

Tran Thanh Man, 61, was also nominated as the new head of Vietnam's National Assembly, state media said, becoming one of the country's four most powerful leaders.

Man, currently the rubber-stamp National Assembly's deputy chairman, succeeds Vuong Dinh Hue, who asked to step down last month because of "violations and shortcomings".

The nominations have been accepted by the party's central committee but will be officially voted in by the National Assembly, which is due to meet next week.

All top leadership "must be truly united, truly exemplary, wholehearted and devoted to the common cause", VNA reported the central committee as saying.

- Crackdown -

On Thursday, Truong Thi Mai also resigned. She was the permanent member of the secretariat in the central party committee -- the most important position in Vietnamese politics outside its four-pillar leadership structure.

With the resignation of Mai, the once 18-strong politburo fell to 12 after also losing two presidents, the National Assembly chairman, a deputy prime minister and the head of the party's economic commission in the past 18 months.

However, the party said Thursday four new members had been appointed, including Bui Thi Minh Hoai, replacing Mai as the only woman in the politburo.

The political upheaval is highly unusual in Vietnam, where for years all changes were carefully orchestrated with an emphasis on cautious stability.

The anti-corruption drive has proved popular with the public.

But analysts warn the turmoil may threaten the country's reputation for stability, which has helped it build a highly successful export-driven manufacturing economy, making products for major global brands.

As well as political leaders, major business figures have also fallen foul of the purge, with property tycoon Truong My Lan sentenced to death last month in a multi-billion-dollar fraud case.

All of this comes as Vietnam seeks increased foreign investment -- particularly from the United States -- to develop its economy from low-value manufacturing jobs to high-tech industries.

- Golden steak -

Lam has spent his whole career within the secretive ministry of public security, which deals with the monitoring of dissent and surveillance of activists in the authoritarian state.

Rights groups say the government has in recent years stepped up a crackdown on civil society groups.

Lam is also deputy head of the steering committee on anti-corruption.

According to Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, Lam has weaponised anti-corruption investigations to and "systematically taken down rivals in the politburo who were eligible to become general secretary" of the Communist Party, the most powerful position in Vietnam's political system.

Other than Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, "that leaves To Lam as the last man standing".

His nomination comes nearly three years after he was filmed enjoying a bite of steak smothered in gold leaf at a London restaurant, shortly after laying a wreath at the grave of Karl Marx.

The incident in 2021 sparked online anger in Vietnam, where the average person earns a few dollars a day.

The restaurant, Nusr-Et Steakhouse, named after Turkish chef Nusret Gokce -- known to his nearly 40 million Instagram followers as Salt Bae -- serves up steaks wrapped in edible 24-carat gold leaf, reportedly costing more than US$1,000.

Lam is also the head of the steering committee on the Central Highlands, a highly sensitive region that has long been a hotbed of discontent over issues including land rights and is home to several ethnic minority groups. - AFP

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Vietnam , To Lam , Tough Job , Ahead , As President


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