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Vietnam's top security official is confirmed as president

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Vietnam's Communist Party has nominated the country's top police official as its new president amid a major reshuffle of top leadership. As Michael Sullivan reports, the move was approved today during a session of the party's national assembly.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The tightly controlled one-party state has a reputation for political stability, but it's one that's been sorely tested in the last year and a half. In that time, two state presidents and two deputy prime ministers have stepped down for alleged wrongdoing that have also taken down prominent business executives as part of the party chief's so-called Blazing Furnace campaign to root out corruption.

The new president, To Lam, has been Vietnam's state security minister since 2016 and has played an important and, some say, heavy-handed role in implementing the anti-corruption campaign. Giang Nguyen is a fellow at Singapore's Institute for Southeast Asian Studies.

GIANG NGUYEN: Many people, they may not like him personally, but they believe that he's very useful in clearing out the house, in stamping out corruption, which is very, very disturbing for Vietnamese economy, for the businesses. But those who don't like him or - feel that actually he uses that power to advance his career.

SULLIVAN: He says, as state security minister, To Lam also has a reputation for cracking down on dissent even more than usual.

NGUYEN: He has an opinion of someone who is conservative in his political thinking. And during his tenure as a minister of public security, Vietnam has been accused of basically limiting, restricting human rights and media freedom very much. But obviously, that is the remit he receives from the ruling party.

SULLIVAN: The president's post is largely ceremonial, but some analysts see this appointment as To Lam's way of positioning himself to replace the aging and ailing Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. His term expires in 2026. His anti-corruption drive has drawn both praise and criticism domestically and from foreign investors. Some say it's slowed approval for many projects, with bureaucrats reluctant to make decisions out of fear of somehow falling afoul of the graft busters. But others suggest the campaign is making business easier, or at least more transparent at a time when Vietnam is eager to entice Western investors seeking to diversify their China-dependent supply chains.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.