Vietnam anti-graft crusader set to be next President and push his agenda even further


The Party Central Committee of Vietnam proposed Minister of Public Security To Lam to the presidential position. - Photo: Vietnam News/ANN

HANOI (Bloomberg): Vietnam nominated the enforcer of Communist Party’s anti-corruption drive as the next president and proposed a new head of parliament, in appointments that could ease months of political turmoil and allow policymakers to refocus on a struggling economy.

The Party Central Committee proposed Minister of Public Security To Lam to the presidential position, according to a statement on the government’s website. It also sought to elevate National Assembly Vice Chairman Tran Thanh Man to the legislature chairman’s post.

The party nominations come amid a years’ long anti-graft campaign pushed by Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong that has ensnared two presidents, two deputy prime ministers, a parliament chairman, scores of other government officials and business executives. A death sentence was given to a real estate tycoon in a $12 billion fraud case in April.

The parliament will begin the process of voting on the nominations Monday, after the start of its summer session, the legislature’s Chief Administrator Bui Van Cuong said during a Sunday briefing. To Lam will continue to hold his current position as head of the public security ministry until the parliament approves his replacement, he said.

Lam, 66, will be the third president of the Southeast Asian nation in less than two years. His two immediate predecessors resigned after accepting responsibility for "violations” possibly detected by the ministry that Lam oversaw.

Lam has emerged as one of the most important officials apart from party chief Trong, after his work to weed out corruption helped lift Vietnam’s ranking in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index to 83 last year from 113 in 2016.

While the presidency in Vietnam is largely ceremonial, it’s also the second most important position in the political hierarchy and a possible stepping stone to eventually succeed Trong when his term ends in early 2026.

Still, Lam is unlikely to alter the course of economic or foreign policies, which are decided by the Politburo and the Party Central Committee.

The International Monetary Fund projects Vietnam’s economy to be among Asia’s fastest growing this year and lead the region along with India in 2025. Suppliers of Apple Inc. to companies like Samsung Electronics Co. have invested billions in the Southeast Asian nation.

The presidential role carries little power and could also indicate Lam is losing influence in the government, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

"He won’t have his hands on the levers of power,” Thayer said. The scope and intensity of Lam’s public ministry investigations at the behest of Trong have unnerved many officials, he said.

As the public security minister since 2016, Lam’s law enforcement responsibilities have included leading the sweeping anti-graft effort that saw at least 459 party members disciplined over corruption last year alone.

Man, the nominee for head of parliament, hails from the Mekong-Delta province of Hau Giang and his rise would be welcomed by officials from the south. The 61-year-old was head of the Vietnam Fatherland Front - a party-led organization - before becoming vice chairman of the National Assembly in April 2021, according to the parliament’s website.

He succeeds Vuong Dinh Hue, who resigned as parliament chairman last month over violation of party regulations, according to a Party Central Committee statement, which did not provide details.

-- ©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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