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Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc quits amid Communist Party corruption crackdown

Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc has resigned after the ruling Communist Party blamed him for “violations and wrongdoing” by officials under his control, the government said Tuesday, in a major escalation of the country’s anti-graft campaign.

Phuc, a former prime minister widely credited with accelerating pro-business reforms, held the largely ceremonial post of president since 2021 and is the highest-ranking official targeted by the party’s sweeping corruption crackdown.

Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by four “pillars”: the party’s secretary, the president, prime minister and speaker of the house.

Phuc, 68, was ultimately responsible for offenses committed by many officials, including two deputy prime ministers and three ministers, the government said.

“Fully being aware of his responsibilities before the party and people, he submitted an application to resign from his assigned positions, quit his job and retire,” it said in statement.

Phuc’s office could not immediately be reached for comment and it was not clear if a replacement has been chosen.

Vietnam has been rife with speculation he would be removed following January’s dismissal of two deputy prime ministers who served under him, as the party doubles down on a “blazing furnace” anti-corruption drive led by its powerful long-serving chief, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Last year, 539 party members were prosecuted or “disciplined” for corruption and “deliberate wrongdoings”, including ministers, top officials and diplomats, according to the party, while police investigated 453 corruption cases, up 50% from 2021.

Trong earlier this month said the party was “more determined” and “more effective and methodical” in its approach, and vowed to deliver results.

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Impact uncertain
Opinions vary on the impact of the anti-graft drive on investment and policy.

Le Hong Hiep of the Vietnam Studies Programme at the Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said the purge could pave the way for cleaner, more capable leaders to rise.

“As long as the leadership reshuffles do not lead to radical policy changes, their impact on the economy will also be limited,” Hiep posted on his Facebook account.

However, Ha Hoang Hop, a senior visiting fellow at the same institute, said Phuc’s demise and uncertainty over the impact of the crackdown could unnerve investors.

“This could lead Vietnam to a time of instability that would worry foreign friends and investors,” he said.

Phuc’s resignation requires approval from the legislature, which sources on Monday said would hold a rare extraordinary meeting this week, adding to expectation that Phuc’s fate had been sealed.

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Phuc, who was known in Vietnam for his friendly approach and love for the national soccer team, was once tipped as a future party General Secretary, the state’s most prestigious job.

As prime minister from 2016 to 2021, he oversaw an average 6% annual economic growth for Asia’s burgeoning manufacturing powerhouse and helped further a liberalisation drive that included trade deals with the European Union and Pacific powers.

Despite his downfall, the government on Tuesday praised his achievements, particularly his pandemic response.

“He has made great efforts in leading, directing and administering the Covid-19 epidemic prevention and control, achieving important results,” it said.

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