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Vietnam names acting president after legislature votes to remove Thuong

2 min

Vietnam's legislature on Thursday appointed Vice-President Vo Thi Anh Xuan as acting head of state, after President Vo Van Thuong became the latest top official to fall amid an intensified corruption crackdown by the ruling Communist Party.

Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong, Richard A. Brooks/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

Vietnam's legislature on Thursday appointed Vice-President Vo Thi Anh Xuan as acting head of state, after President Vo Van Thuong became the latest top official to fall amid an intensified corruption crackdown by the ruling Communist Party.

Thuong, 53, was removed from the powerful Politburo for unspecified violations of party rules, becoming the second president to exit in just over a year in Vietnam, where leadership changes have recently all been linked to a wide-ranging "blazing furnace" anti-bribery campaign.

Xuan, one of only a few women in senior positions in Vietnamese politics, steps in as president for the second time in just over a year.

"The Politburo has assigned Vo Thi Anh Xuan as acting president... until the National Assembly elects a new president, in accordance with Vietnam's constitution," reported online newspaper VnExpress. The government also confirmed her appointment.

The president holds a largely ceremonial role but is one of the top four political positions in the Southeast Asian nation.

Xuan filled the void in the six weeks after Nguyen Xuan Phuc stepped down as president last year for "violations and wrongdoing" by officials under his control.

Thuong was widely regarded as being close to ageing General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam's most powerful figure and architect of an anti-graft campaign that intensified recently.

The party's central committee on Wednesday accepted Thuong's resignation and removed him from the Politburo, its top decision-making body, and his position of head of the National Defence and Security Council. About 88% of lawmakers supported his removal as president in Thursday's vote.

The committee said Thuong's shortcomings "had negatively impacted public opinion, affecting the reputation of the Party, State and him personally", without elaborating on what he had done wrong.

REPEATED RESHUFFLES

Foreign investors and diplomats have blamed the sweeping crackdown for slowing decisions in a country already grappling with cumbersome bureaucracy.

Analysts say the current malaise could be resolved with the swift election of a new president, but risks remain that repeated reshuffles of top leaders could hurt business sentiment in a country that is highly dependent on foreign investment.

The legislature could announce a new president when it holds its next regular plenary session in May, or earlier if a special meeting is convened.

The resignation "should not bring about significant changes in Vietnam's foreign policy, especially the country's neutral stance between the U.S. and China," Khang Vu, East Asian security expert at Boston College.

The U.S. embassy in Hanoi said Washington "is confident that the positive momentum in our bilateral relationship will continue as we implement our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership".

The exit of Thuong suggests the issue of who will succeed the paramount leader Trong remains open, said Darren Tay, an economist at BMI, a Fitch Solutions company.

"While it does not reflect well on Vietnam, the issue has yet to directly affect reforms aimed at improving the business environment and foreign investors remain relatively insulated for now," he said.

By Khanh Vu

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