Vietnam nominates Public Security Minister To Lam as President

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Communist Party, Vo Van Thuong, To Lam

Vietnam’s Communist Party has put forth the nomination of Public Security Minister To Lam to become the country’s new president, according to state media reports on Saturday. This nomination follows the resignation of his predecessor, Vo Van Thuong, as part of a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign. Thousands of individuals, including high-ranking officials and prominent business leaders, have been ensnared in this sweeping crackdown, known as the “blazing furnace” campaign, which is spearheaded by Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

The Vietnam News Agency reported that the party’s central committee approved “the nomination of Comrade To Lam, Politburo member, Minister of Public Security to be elected as President.” To Lam, 66, has held the position of public security minister since 2016 and is recognized for his stringent stance on human rights movements within the communist nation.

Lam’s nomination comes on the heels of Vo Van Thuong’s resignation in March, after serving only one year as president. Thuong’s departure marks another significant fall from grace within the ongoing anti-corruption initiative. Furthermore, Tran Thanh Man, aged 61, has been nominated as the new head of Vietnam’s National Assembly, a position that places him among the nation’s four most powerful leaders. Currently the deputy chairman of the rubber-stamp National Assembly, Man is set to succeed Vuong Dinh Hue, who stepped down last month due to “violations and shortcomings.”

While the nominations have received the central committee’s acceptance, they await official confirmation through a vote by the National Assembly, scheduled to convene next week. The central committee emphasized the need for top leadership to be “truly united, truly exemplary, wholehearted and devoted to the common cause,” as reported by the Vietnam News Agency.

This political upheaval is quite rare in Vietnam, where political transitions are typically meticulously planned to ensure steady governance. The anti-corruption drive, though popular with the public, has raised concerns among analysts about the potential risks to the country’s reputation for stability. This stability has been a cornerstone of Vietnam’s successful export-driven manufacturing economy, which produces goods for major global brands.

The crackdown has also impacted major business figures. For instance, property tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced to death last month in a multi-billion-dollar fraud case. This level of political and economic turbulence comes at a time when Vietnam is actively seeking increased foreign investment, particularly from the United States, to advance its economy from low-value manufacturing to high-tech industries.

To Lam’s career has been entirely within the Ministry of Public Security, a secretive department responsible for monitoring dissent and conducting surveillance of activists in this authoritarian state. Rights groups have noted an escalation in the government’s crackdown on civil society groups in recent years. Besides his role as public security minister, Lam is also the deputy head of the steering committee on anti-corruption.

Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, asserts that Lam has used anti-corruption investigations strategically to eliminate rivals within the politburo who might contend for the general secretary position, which is the most powerful in Vietnam’s political hierarchy. According to Abuza, this maneuvering has left Lam as the dominant candidate, other than Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.

Lam’s nomination comes nearly three years after he was filmed eating a gold-leaf-covered steak at a London restaurant, an incident that sparked widespread online anger in Vietnam. The restaurant, Nusr-Et Steakhouse, is owned by Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, also known as Salt Bae to his nearly 40 million Instagram followers. The establishment is famous for serving steaks wrapped in edible 24-carat gold leaf, with prices reportedly exceeding $1,000 per steak. This opulent display, juxtaposed with the fact that the average Vietnamese earns only a few dollars a day, drew significant backlash.

Additionally, Lam serves as the head of the steering committee on the Central Highlands, a region marked by its sensitivity due to longstanding issues such as land rights and being home to several ethnic minority groups. The area has a history of discontent, making it a critical region for the government to maintain control over.

Truong Thi Mai’s resignation on Thursday further underscores the political instability. Mai, who held the position of permanent member of the secretariat in the central party committee, was one of the most significant figures outside Vietnam’s four-pillar leadership structure. Her departure reduces the politburo from 18 members to 12, following the exits of two presidents, the National Assembly chairman, a deputy prime minister, and the head of the party’s economic commission in the last 18 months. Nonetheless, the party announced the appointment of four new members, including Bui Thi Minh Hoai, who replaces Mai as the only woman in the politburo.

The ongoing anti-corruption purge and the resultant political reshuffling are unprecedented in Vietnam’s recent history, reflecting a significant shift from the previously stable and predictable political landscape. While the anti-graft campaign has garnered public approval, it remains to be seen how this turmoil will affect Vietnam’s long-term economic and political stability, especially as the country continues to court foreign investment and aims to transform its economic model.

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