The Latest on Southeast Asia: March 28, 2024

On March 20, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) accepted President Vo Van Thuong’s resignation in an extraordinary session of the National Assembly. After serving for just over a year, Thuong resigned amid shakeups under Vietnam’s dot lo, or blazing furnace, a campaign against corruption and graft that has made its way up to the upper echelons of government. 

The CPV’s official statement accused Thuong of violating party rules, in turn “[impacting] public opinion and the reputation of the party, state, and himself.” Analysts believe that Thuong’s resignation is rooted in his alleged connections to a bribery scandal centered on the Phuc Son real estate development group in Quang Ngai province, suspected by authorities of forgery, perjury, and selective bookkeeping that resulted in $26 million in losses to the state budget. Thuong served as the provincial party secretary in Quang Ngai from 2011 to 2014.

Thuong is Vietnam’s second president in just over a year. His direct predecessor, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and other top ministers and leaders throughout Vietnam were also removed or faced prosecution in recent years due to the anticorruption campaign. Barring an emergency extraordinary session, Thuong’s formal successor will be chosen in the next National Assembly session in May. 

Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan will serve as acting president until the CPV decides on Truong’s formal successor. Among the top contenders to succeed President Thuong are Minister of Public Security To Lam and Standing Member of the CPV Secretariat Truong Thi Mai. But To Lam’s powerful position as minister of public security, increasingly central given the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, may make a transition to the presidency unappealing. 

Crucially, Thuong’s successor will be tasked with bringing stability to Vietnamese domestic politics while projecting confidence to the international community. Vietnam’s antigraft and anticorruption efforts have earned significant international attention; earlier in March, a groundbreaking trial involving Vietnamese real estate developers proved to be the largest financial fraud case in Asia.

With its growing presence in high-tech industries like smartphone production and semiconductors, Vietnam is increasingly important in international supply chains—billions of dollars of foreign investment have flowed into the country in the past decade alone. Hanoi’s recent moves to strengthen ties with the United States, China, and other regional partners demonstrates Vietnam’s growing interconnectedness and weight on the international stage. As such, ongoing upheaval in the country’s leadership, coupled with increased scrutiny toward key business conglomerates, could impact Vietnam’s reputation as a destination for foreign investment and force Hanoi to focus more on domestic political stability than other priorities.

Japhet Quitzon is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

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