Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the man behind Vietnam’s successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has been formally sworn in as president in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
Phuc, 66, was Vietnam’s prime minister for the last five years, a period in which the economy boomed and his government’s COVID-19 response won plaudits at home and abroad.
Following secret voting on Monday, Phuc scored the maximum votes among the almost 500-member rubber-stamp national assembly.
Vietnam is run by the Communist Party and officially led by the party general secretary, president, and prime minister, with key decisions made by the 18-member politburo. The country is currently in the midst of its twice-a-decade leadership transition, with 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong re-elected in January as party general secretary, the most important of the three roles.
Phuc was the only candidate nominated for president, as Trong – who had held the presidency since 2018 after the sudden death of his predecessor – stepped down.
Earlier, the National Assembly said this was “the first time ever a prime minister was nominated to the position of the president”.
After his swearing-in, Phuc told the nation he was “lucky and honoured” to be given the position, which is now only second to Trong in the line-up to the ultimate post.
Politburo leaders are usually expected to retire at 65, but Vietnam has bent the age rules for both of them.
Nguyen Khac Giang, a Vietnamese politics expert from New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, said Phuc’s selection on Monday was “his well-deserved award” for his economic performance and for Vietnam’s successful COVID-19 response.
Although the presidency is largely a ceremonial role, “Mr Phuc will now be the second-ranked member in the party which makes a strong case for him to claim the general secretary post if Mr Trong has to step down earlier than expected,” Giang told the AFP news agency.
Rumours have swirled in recent years about Trong’s health after he took a month-long absence in 2019.
According to Giang, Phuc’s experience of “well managing Vietnam’s relationship with the United States under the turbulent administration of Donald Trump” will stand him in good stead for his foreign affairs responsibilities as president.