Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc has resigned, state media said Tuesday, after days of rumours he was about to be sacked as part of a major anti-corruption drive that has seen several ministers fired.
The sudden departure is a highly unusual move in communist Vietnam, where political changes are normally carefully orchestrated, with an emphasis on cautious stability.
Only one other Communist Party president has ever stepped down, and that was for health reasons.
“The resignation of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc is an unprecedented move in the history of the party,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, research fellow at the Vietnam Centre for Economic and Strategic Studies (VESS).
State media said the Communist Party had ruled he was responsible for wrongdoing by senior ministers under him during his 2016-2021 stint as prime minister, before he became president.
Two deputy prime ministers were sacked this month in an anti-corruption purge that has led to the arrest of dozens of officials, with many of the graft allegations relating to deals done as part of Vietnam’s Covid pandemic response.
Phuc “took political responsibility as leader when several officials, including two deputy prime ministers and three ministers committed violations and shortcomings, causing very serious consequences”, state news agency VNA said, quoting the party central committee’s official statement.
Earlier this month, the country’s rubber stamp National Assembly removed Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam from their positions as deputy prime ministers.
Minh was a minister of foreign affairs while Dam was in charge of the country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At least 100 officials and business people, including Dam’s assistant, have been arrested in connection with a scandal involving the distribution of Covid-19 testing kits.
Thirty-seven people — many of them senior diplomats and police — have also been arrested in an investigation over the repatriation of Vietnamese during the pandemic.