New Viet President says he has limits

Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong taking the oath of office after being elected as President of Vietnam in Hanoi yesterday. The 74-year-old asked for sympathy from the nation, citing his "worrisome" old age and health in h
Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong taking the oath of office after being elected as President of Vietnam in Hanoi yesterday. The 74-year-old asked for sympathy from the nation, citing his "worrisome" old age and health in his acceptance speech to the National Assembly.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HANOI • Vietnam's Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong asked for sympathy from the nation after being elected the country's new President, citing his "worrisome" old age and health in an acceptance speech to the National Assembly.

The 74-year-old's election by the Parliament, announced yesterday, followed the Sept 21 death of President Tran Dai Quang, 61, from a prolonged illness.

Mr Trong was nominated to the post by the politburo about two weeks after Mr Quang's death.

Though the president's role is seen as largely ceremonial, Mr Trong will maintain his position as party head - the first person to hold both roles since revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in the late 1960s.

The nomination broke with Vietnamese tradition, in which political power rests with four individual leaders - party chief, prime minister, president and head of the National Assembly. The move elevated Mr Trong to become the most powerful man in the country.

Local news website VnExpress reported that of the 477 lawmakers, 476 chose Mr Trong, indicating he won 99.8 per cent of the vote.

"My qualifications, capacity and my limits are obvious, my knowledge is not sufficient," Mr Trong told the National Assembly moments after being sworn in as president. "I'm getting old and my health is becoming weaker, so it should be worrisome. Therefore, I'm asking for sympathy and help from all of you and from the legislators, from the government administration, from the Vietnamese people."

 

Mr Trong acknowledged the difficulties the government faces as it strives to maintain the nation's standing as one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

"We have a lot of heavy tasks awaiting ahead to be done as international developments are so unpredictable," he said. "We must be very careful."

Mr Trong has welcomed a robust US presence in South-east Asia amid Vietnam's territorial tensions with China, which claims more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea based on a 1947 map showing vague dashes - the so-called nine-dash line.

He also spearheaded anti-corruption campaigns targeting officials and could accelerate those efforts, analysts say.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'New Viet President says he has limits'. Print Edition | Subscribe