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Vietnam's security chief elected president by parliament

General To Lam walks to the podium to swear in as the Vietnamese president at the National Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 22, 2024.
General To Lam walks to the podium to swear in as the Vietnamese president at the National Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 22, 2024.

Vietnam’s National Assembly elected General To Lam, the country’s top public security official, as its new president Wednesday.

The 66-year-old Lam succeeds Vo Van Thuong, who resigned in March after just one year in the post. The ruling Communist Party cited “shortcomings” with Thuong it said led to violations of rules that hurt the reputation of himself and the party.

As Vietnam’s top security official, Lam has spearheaded the massive anti-corruption drive known as Blazing Furnace initiated by the party’s general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong. The drive has led to the arrests of thousands of government officials and business leaders in recent years.

Dozens of high-ranking government officials have also been purged due to Blazing Furnace, including Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Thuong’s predecessor. Six members of Vietnam’s 18-member governing politburo and a former speaker of the National Assembly have also been forced from their posts.

Observers say Lam's elevation to the largely ceremonial post puts him in a strong position to succeed the 80-year-old Trong, who was re-elected to an unprecedented third five-year term in 2021. Lam has been accused by human rights activists of launching a crackdown on civil society groups in recent years, as well as the kidnapping of a former Vietnamese politician from Berlin in 2017, leading to fears that he could transform the country into a police state.

Lam has found himself at the center of controversy. A video surfaced in 2021, when Vietnam was under a strict COVID-19 lockdown, showing him being served a steak smothered in edible 24-carat gold leaf at a London restaurant run by Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, known by his millions of social media followers as Salt Bae. The meal was estimated to cost more than $1,000.

Anger over the video prompted a noodle vendor to post a video mocking Salt Bae. The vendor was arrested on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda and sentenced to five years in prison.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.

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