Repressive police chief becomes president

Tran Dai Quang has boasted of his success in silencing government critics. Picture courtesy Reuters

Tran Dai Quang has boasted of his success in silencing government critics. Picture courtesy Reuters

As Vietnam’s top policeman he gained notoriety as tormentor in chief of the country’s beleaguered dissidents.

Now, as state president, Tran Dai Quang becomes the public face of Vietnam; one of whose early tasks will be greeting President Obama on his visit in May.

Quang was elected with over 90% of the vote by the rubber stamp National Assembly – a decision that had already been reached at the Communist party congress in January.

In the run up the leadership contest, the police general had openly boasted of his success in suppressing government critics and the nascent democracy movement.

The post of president is largely symbolic, but it carries prestige as one of the “four pillars” of Vietnam’s collective leadership.

Some analysts see it as a potential stepping stone for the police general in a future contest for the top leadership post: general-secretary of the Communist party. He is one of a number of former public security officials and Communist party enforcers who have been elevated to senior positions in the leadership.

Growing intolerance

The appointment comes amid a severe chill in the political climate, with a number of prominent bloggers recently arrested or sentenced to harsh prison terms.

Activists say they are living in fear of further arrests as the authorities show growing intolerance of dissent and criticism of government policies.

Mr Quang gave details to the National Assembly last year of his efforts to suppress critical voices. He said that the police had dealt with 1,410 cases involving national security over a three and a half year period after he took office.

He said that opposition activists had illegally established more than 60 groups and organisations in the name of democracy and human rights, involving some 350 participants from 50 cities and provinces.

Mr Quang, in his speech, said the police had attacked, divided and isolated leading figures in the opposition movement who were trying to gather forces in the form of civil society organisations.

His appointment will be followed by the formal “election” of Nguyen Xuan Phuc as the new prime minister.

He’s seen as a relatively colourless bureaucrat with no clear policy affiliations.

Phuc served as deputy to the politically ambitious economic reformer, Nguyen Tan Dung, who was the main casualty of the leadership struggle in January.