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Vietnam President Thuong quits over 'shortcomings'

He appears to be the latest victim of the anti-graft campaign, 'burning furnace', initiated by the Communist Party
President Vo Van Thuong addresses a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Jan. 12.

President Vo Van Thuong addresses a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Jan. 12.  (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 21, 2024 04:35 AM GMT
Updated: March 21, 2024 06:06 AM GMT

Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong has quit ahead of an extraordinary session of parliament which was scheduled for March 21.

His resignation was immediately accepted by the Central Party Committee amid speculation that his resignation was tied to corruption scandals.

A government statement said Thuong had violated Communist Party rules and that his shortcomings had negatively impacted public opinion which affected the reputation of the party, the state, and his popularity.

Thuong, 53, had held the job for about a year and his resignation was not unexpected with his “shortcomings” to be raised during the special sitting of parliament.

The presidency is traditionally a ceremonial role but remains one of the top four political positions in Vietnam, which has witnessed a rare shifting power struggle among the ruling communist elites and increasing public discontent in recent years.

He replaced Nguyen Xuan Phuc after a series of scandals involving the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and he was widely seen as a close ally of the Communist Party’s general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, described by one source as "number one" and firmly in charge.

The official Vietnam News Agency played down the resignation, headlining: “Party Central Committee agrees to let Vo Van Thuong cease holding positions” noting Thuong “was a key leader who grew up from the grassroots and was assigned many important leadership positions.”

But it added: “Reports from the CPV Central Committee’s Inspection Commission and relevant authorities showed that Thuong has violated regulations on what party members must not do, and regulations concerning the responsibility to set an example to officials and party members.”

They included members of the political bureau, the Central Committee's Secretariat, and the Central Committee; and he also “bears the responsibility of the head in line with the party's regulations and the state's laws”.

Trong, who is serving a rare third term as general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), is behind the anti-graft campaign known as “burning furnace” and he had sought the timely dismissal of ineffective officials.

At the top of the allegations, Thuong has been tied to a US$20 billion scam, currently before the courts in Ho Chi Minh City which is also considered Vietnam’s largest-ever fraud case.

Other allegations have included foreign ministry officials accused of extorting about $200 million from expatriate Vietnamese attempting to return home during the pandemic and a scandal involving $172 million to supply hospitals with massively overpriced Covid-19 test kits.

His resignation also came after police said a former political associate of Thuong had been arrested for corruption, allegedly committed a decade ago in the central province of Quang Ngai.

Analysts said Thuong’s removal could be viewed as a move to shore up support for hundreds of bureaucrats and officials under suspicion, but it was an upheaval that could cost given this country’s attempts to open up further in the international diplomatic and financial arenas.

That includes a first papal tour expected later this year, which followed an invitation extended by Thuong and the appointment of Vietnam’s first resident papal representative since ties between the Vatican and Hanoi were severed at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

"It looks like he is the latest victim to be thrown into the burning furnace. I'd like to know the details about the negative public opinions triggered by his alleged violations and shortcomings,” said a source close to the Central Committee.

On March 14, the royal house of the Netherlands announced a state visit by the country’s king and queen would be postponed due to “internal circumstances” in Vietnam.

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