Sun, Apr 03, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Police general becomes Vietnamese president

AFP, HANOI

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang yesterday takes the oath of office after being elected as the head of state in Hanoi.

Photo: AP

Lawmakers in communist Vietnam approved a top police general for the role of president yesterday, making the head of a controversial domestic security force one of the country’s most high-profile politicians.

Tran Dai Quang won 91.5 percent of the votes during a ballot at the rubber stamp parliament early yesterday, having been nominated by party officials for the largely ceremonial role during the five-yearly National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in January.

Vietnam is in the midst of a leadership hand over, with communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong re-elected in January as party secretary-general in a victory for the party’s old guard.

One of Quang’s first duties would be to receive US President Barack Obama, as Hanoi seeks closer ties with its former wartime adversary in the face of Beijing’s rising assertiveness within the contested South China Sea.

“I sincerely thank the National Assembly for electing me,” Quang said as he was sworn in, according to a media officer at the parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

POWER OF THREE

The authoritarian country is run by the Communist Party of Vietnam and officially led by a triumvirate of party secretary-general, president and prime minister, with key decisions being made by the 19-member politburo.

Reformist Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung lost out in internal party elections and is due to step down next week, when the National Assembly is to vote on his replacement.

This is expected to be Nguyen Xuan Phuc, a deputy prime minister, state media said.

In the past, the leadership hand over was decided at the party congress, but took up to six months to be confirmed by the Vietnamese National Assembly.

Analysts said that this year things have moved more quickly, partly because several top Vietnamese leaders are retiring from politics and also because of an upcoming visit by Obama next month.

Quang, 59 and a career policeman, rose the ranks within the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security.

His election marks the first time a police general has been made president, 84-year-old anti-corruption activist Le Hien Duc said.

POWERFUL BODY

“He worked for 40 years as a top security leader in the police force,” she said.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security is a powerful body with sweeping powers, including intelligence gathering and protecting the party from perceived threats, both domestic and foreign.

It has been the focus of criticism from rights groups and Western governments, who regularly urge Vietnam to improve its rights record and stop heavy-handed persecutions of regime critics.

“It’s too early to say anything about Quang, who still lacks experience in foreign policy and the economy,” 65-year-old army colonel Tran Thanh Trung said.

“I don’t expect big changes,” he added.

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