Vietnam's President dies of serious illness at age 61

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in a photo taken in March. Though he was officially the head of state, his role was seen as largely ceremonial, greeting visiting leaders and hosting diplomatic events. ▕
Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in a photo taken in March. Though he was officially the head of state, his role was seen as largely ceremonial, greeting visiting leaders and hosting diplomatic events. PHOTO: REUTERS

His death unlikely to alter politics in country ruled by powerful communist government

HANOI • Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, a former police chief known as a tough politician and committed communist with little tolerance for dissent, has died at the age of 61 after a serious illness, state media reported.

His death is not likely to dramatically alter politics in a country where the powerful communist government oversees almost every facet of society - although the death of a sitting leader is rare.

Coverage on state media was sombre yesterday, with a Vietnam Television anchor in dark clothing announcing the news of the leader's death, first reported by the official Vietnam News Agency.

The President had sought treatment in Japan for over a year before he was checked into hospital on Thursday afternoon after contracting a "rare virus", Mr Nguyen Quoc Trieu, in charge of the healthcare committee for top leaders, said in state media reports.

In office as President since April 2016, after more than four decades at the powerful Ministry of Public Security, Mr Quang had a reputation as a hardliner.

Though he held one of the country's top four positions and was officially the head of state, his role was seen as largely ceremonial, greeting visiting leaders and hosting diplomatic events in a bid to boost Vietnam's profile on the world stage.

Mr Quang, also a politburo member, had appeared thin and pale in public in recent months and was unstable on his feet last week when he hosted a welcoming ceremony for Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Hanoi.

His last public appearance was earlier this week, at a meeting with visiting Chinese politicians and foreign dignitaries.

The President had sought treatment in Japan for over a year before he was checked into hospital on Thursday afternoon after contracting a "rare virus", Mr Nguyen Quoc Trieu, in charge of the healthcare committee for top leaders, said in state media reports.

His death is not likely to shake up politics in the one-party state, which prides itself on stable, consensus-based leadership and where the dramas that are rumoured to play out in the corridors of power are rarely aired publicly.

"It will not lead to any ruffles in leadership or any tensions," Vietnam expert Carl Thayer told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

Born on Oct 12, 1956, in northern Ninh Binh province, Mr Quang joined the police academy as a young man and went on to study at the College of Foreign Languages in Hanoi. He has been a communist party member since 1980.

He joined the security ministry in 1975 and steadily climbed the ranks of the shadowy yet powerful institution, which heads up the country's secret police and intelligence.

Beijing paid tribute to Mr Quang yesterday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang calling him "an outstanding leader... (who) made important contributions to the national development of reform and opening up in Vietnam".

Mr Quang is survived by his wife and two sons.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'Vietnam's President dies of serious illness at age 61'. Print Edition | Subscribe