In the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the man behind Vietnam’s effective handling of the coronavirus pandemic, was officially sworn in as president.
Phuc, 66, served as Prime Minister of Vietnam for the past five years, during which time the economy expanded and his government’s COVID-19 response received attention both at home and abroad.
Phuc received the most votes in the nearly 500-member rubber-stamp national assembly after secret voting on Monday.
Vietnam is governed by the Communist Party, which is headed by the general secretary, president, and prime minister, with the 18-member politburo making crucial decisions. The country is undergoing its twice-decade leadership transition, with 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong re-elected as party general secretary, the most powerful of the three positions, in January.
Trong, who had held the presidency since 2018 after the sudden death of his predecessor, stepped down, leaving Phuc as the sole nominee for president.
The National Assembly had previously stated that this was “the first time ever a prime minister has been elected to the role of president.”
Phuc told the nation after his inauguration that he felt “lucky and honoured” to be offered the job, which places him second only to Trong in the fight for the top job.
Members of the Politburo are normally supposed to retire at the age of 65, but Vietnam has made an exception for both of them.
Phuc’s selection on Monday, according to Nguyen Khac Giang, a Vietnamese politics expert at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, was “his well-deserved award” for his economic performance and Vietnam’s good COVID-19 response.
Despite the fact that the presidency is largely ceremonial, “Mr Phuc will now be the party’s second-ranked member, making a strong case for him to assume the general secretary post if Mr Trong has to step down sooner than expected,” Giang told the AFP news agency.
Following a month-long absence in 2019, reports about Trong’s wellbeing have circulated in recent years.
Phuc’s experience “well handling Vietnam’s relationship with the United States under the tumultuous administration of Donald Trump,” according to Giang, would serve him well in his foreign affairs duties as president.
Phuc will name a successor to the prime ministership later Monday.
According to AFP, Pham Minh Chinh, 62, a former deputy minister of public security, will be appointed to the post.