Analysts: Vietnamese president’s resignation shows internal power struggles in the party

Analysts say the resignation of Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong this month, a year into his five-year term, points to infighting within the Communist Party and shakes the country’s reputation for political stability, a key driver of foreign investment.

On March 20, the party’s Central Committee held an extraordinary meeting in which it agreed to allow Thuong to renounce the presidency and all official duties. Thuong’s resignation comes as part of an anti-corruption campaign by the party leader, 79-year-old Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong.

The party’s Central Committee office said in a written statement that day that an investigation by the Central Inspection Commission found that Thuong had committed violations of party regulations.

Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting scholar at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told VOA on March 23 that the government’s statement on Thuong’s dismissal was vague, but many suspect his resignation was linked to his time as party secretary of Quang Ngai Province 2011 to 2014 connections.

On March 8, provincial chairman Dang Van Minh and former chairman Cao Khoa were arrested in connection with ongoing investigations into the Phuc Son real estate group. According to government statements, police found that the real estate company had committed forgery, perjury and selective accounting, which caused losses to the state budget of $26 million.

“Thuong was party secretary at the time, so it is related and people claim that this is probably why Thuong was forced to resign,” Giang said.

Succession battle

Giang added that Thuong’s resignation was an “extremely rare and surprising incident,” especially because he was the second president to resign in less than two years.

Thuong’s predecessor Nguyen

“One man was overthrown as part of the anti-corruption campaign and the next man put in his place… a year later he was forced out of office for the same reason,” Giang said of the two presidents.

“That doesn’t sound really good for the organization of the party and for the party’s image as a protector of stability,” he said.

Florian Feyerabend, the Vietnam representative of the German political foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, struck a similar chord, telling VOA that replacing Phuc and Thuong in such a short period of time “inevitably raises questions about the predictability, reliability and inner workings of the system “.

“While the system as such remains stable, the internal balance of power appears to be in limbo ahead of the next party congress,” he said.

The timing of Thuong’s resignation is significant, experts said, as it comes ahead of planned changes in the country’s top leadership at the 14th National Congress in 2026.

Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said Thuong’s resignation would speed up the process of selecting candidates for the new central committee and “expose differences within the leadership.”

At 54, Thuong was the youngest member of the Politburo and was considered a potential candidate for the leadership position of secretary general.

“[Thuong] I clearly wanted something bigger. … There were reasons to believe that he could be an attractive choice for a party that is increasingly out of touch with the younger generation,” Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia expert and professor at the National War College in Washington, said March 20 VOA.

“It was a pretty spectacular fall,” Abuza said.

Although it is unclear what political motivations led to Thuong’s ouster, Abuza said Public Security Minister To Lam appeared to be vying for the country’s most powerful position. Are we talking about the President or the Secretary General?

“We still don’t know who wanted to take us [Thuong] “All eyes are on the public security minister because he has defeated his rivals quite ruthlessly. “He clearly has his eyes on the top job.”

Thayer told VOA that the two likely candidates to succeed Thuong Lam and Truong Thi Mai, head of the Central Committee’s organizing commission. He said the fact that the case emerged after 12 years “leads to the suspicion” that Lam is getting rid of possible rivals to stay in power after the 2026 party congress.

Duy Hoang, executive director of Viet Tan, an unauthorized political party that promotes democracy in Vietnam, also said he viewed Thuong’s ouster as the result of a power struggle.

“This is likely a proxy war over who will be the leader of the Communist Party in the foreseeable future,” he told VOA on March 20.

Economic challenges

The political upheavals pose a threat to the country’s economy, Abuza said. In addition to the two presidents and high-profile arrests in the private sector, officials have also been fired since 2021, including a deputy prime minister, two ministers and more than a dozen provincial leaders.

“For a country that prides itself on political stability being one of its key selling points to foreign investors, things are certainly not looking very stable,” Abuza said.

Feyerabend also said that political stability is one of the factors that make Vietnam attractive for foreign direct investment. However, he said recent political events had no immediate impact on the overall stability of Vietnam’s political system or its attractiveness for foreign direct investment.

Hoang, from Viet Tan, cited concerns about the livelihoods of the country’s more than 100 million citizens.

“I think it will have an impact on people’s lives because there will be economic disruption,” Hoang said. He added that corruption is widespread in Vietnam, but because of the anti-corruption campaign, many officials are “worried that they will be drawn into the blazing furnace.” Secretary-General Trong has described his anti-corruption campaign as a “blazing furnace.”

“Approval decisions are being dragged out and people are unable to make decisions,” Hoang said. “Things are so frozen because of this power struggle.”

Still, ISEAS’ Giang said there is room for optimism. He said foreign direct investment is the country’s main economic engine and remains the Communist Party’s priority.

“We will overcome the current uncertainty and continue to perform well, no matter who is in charge,” he said. “Vietnam wants to continue to maintain … high sustainable economic growth, political stability and a good balance between China and the US, regardless of which factions or individuals are in charge.”

Linh Dan of VOA’s Vietnam Service reported from Washington.

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