Vietnam’s PM Phuc Nominated as President in Power Realignment

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who oversaw rapid economic growth and successful virus containment, is poised to be elected president, possibly positioning him for the top Communist Party job in five years.

The National Assembly is expected to elect Phuc, 66, as president April 5 after he was put forward by the party’s Central Committee as the sole nominee following a five-year term as the government’s functional leader. Vietnam’s secretive leadership changes occur every half decade.

Vietnam’s PM Phuc Nominated as President in Power Realignment

The candidate for the nation’s next prime minister is expected to be voted on April 5 as well. Vuong Dinh Hue, 64, a former minister of finance and ex-deputy prime minister, was elected chairman of the National Assembly March 31.

Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, 76, was re-elected to a rare third term on Jan. 31 by the National Party Congress.

Vietnam has a collective “four pillar” leadership structure made up of general secretary, prime minister, president and chair of the National Assembly, as the parliament is known. The leaders govern in consultation with the 18-member politburo.

As prime minister, Phuc operated the levers of government through policy and allocation of funds. During his five-year tenure, the economy grew as fast as 7.08% in 2018 and foreign investment hit a high of about $30 billion, surging 44% in 2017 as the nation began benefiting from global giants such as Apple Inc. shifting their supply chains to the Southeast Asian nation.

Vietnam has received global recognition for its success at mostly containing the virus. Parliament has set an official target of 6% growth this year, but the government hopes to push it as high as 6.5%.

“Phuc has done a very good job in the last five years as prime minister,” said Alexander Vuving, a Southeast Asia expert at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. He oversaw a booming economy and was the face of the government to major investors and in foreign capitals, Vuving said. As president, he will be attending a foreign policy summits and hold an office that is “largely ceremonial,” he added.

While Phuc’s government influence is expected to wane, becoming president could make him a candidate to be the next party chief, Vuving said. Within the party structure, the president is the second-highest ranked position, behind general secretary, he said.

Who ultimately ascends to the highest ranks of party and government leadership depends largely on factional negotiations and networks, Vuving added.

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