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Vietnam’s security chief To Lam becomes new president | Politics News


Lam’s appointment comes after a major anticorruption drive that analysts say he has weaponised for his benefit.

Vietnam’s rubber-stamp parliament has approved public security minister To Lam as the country’s new president after a major anticorruption campaign forced his predecessor to resign.

In line with the one-party state’s usual procedures, the National Assembly voted unanimously on a resolution that approved 66-year-old Lam’s election after a secret ballot in which he was the only candidate for the job. The vote followed his nomination by the ruling Communist Party last week.

Thousands of people – including several senior government and business leaders – have been caught up in a sweeping crackdown on corruption known as “blazing furnace” in which Lam, who is deputy head of the steering committee on anticorruption, has played a central role.

Lam takes over from Vo Van Thuong, who resigned in March over what the party called “violations and shortcomings”, after just a year in the job. The next month the National Assembly chairman also resigned over “violations and shortcomings“.

Analysts have said that Lam, who is deputy head of the steering committee on anticorruption, has weaponised its investigations to take down his political rivals.

In his first remarks after being confirmed as president, he told parliament that he would “resolutely and persistently continue the fight against corruption”.

‘Stepping stone’

The state president holds a largely ceremonial role but is one of the country’s top four political positions, the so-called “four pillars”. The others are the party chief, the prime minister and the parliament speaker.

Carl Thayer, emeritus professor and Vietnam expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said the election should restore some calm, albeit temporarily. Ageing party chief Nguyen Phu Trong’s third five-year term ends in 2026 – or earlier if he steps down before his mandate expires.

“To Lam could use his position as one of the ‘four pillars’ as a stepping stone to become general secretary,” said Thayer, referring to the party chief job.

“With the elevation to the office of president, it becomes clear that there are more ambitions for To Lam than retirement,” said Florian Feyerabend, the representative in Vietnam for Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank, noting the position could be a “launchpad” to secure his position as party chief.

Feyerabend said continued infighting was “the modus operandi of the system” and was likely to continue until Nguyen Phu Trong’s successor was chosen.

Lam’s rise has not been without controversy, and the parliament decided that he would not continue as minister for public security, which deals with the monitoring of dissent and surveillance of activists in the dictatorship.

Rights campaigners say the government has in recent years stepped up a crackdown on civil society groups, and the Vietnam-focused rights organisation The 88 Project says 200 activists are currently in prison.

No longer at the helm of the Ministry of Public Security, Lam “may be in a weaker position to take down Pham Minh Chinh”, the prime minister and only other contender for general secretary, said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington.

Lam also drew anger in Vietnam in 2021 when celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, known as “Salt Bae”, uploaded a video of Lam eating a gold-encrusted steak at his London restaurant, while Vietnam was under COVID-19 lockdown. The video went viral before the Turkish chef removed it.

A noodle seller who later posted a video imitating “Salt Bae” by sprinkling herbs on noodle soup was sentenced to five years in prison for “anti-state propaganda”.

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