Vietnam fires top leader of Da Nang for misconduct

By Dien Luong   October 6, 2017 | 04:17 am PT
Vietnam fires top leader of Da Nang for misconduct
Nguyen Xuan Anh has been fired as the top leader of Da Nang City and ousted from the Central Committee, a powerful grouping of 200 senior Communist Party members. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
Nguyen Xuan Anh is the latest political casualty of Vietnam's corruption crackdown and the second top leader of a major city to be fired since May.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has fired the top leader of Da Nang and dismissed him from one of the country's most powerful bodies as punishment for misconduct in the central city that's preparing to host the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

The Party on Friday signed off on a proposal by the Politburo to strip Nguyen Xuan Anh of his role as Party chief of Da Nang and remove him from the Central Committee, an influential group of 200 senior Party members. The 18-member Politburo is the Party's decision-making body.

The move took place at a time when the Central Committee is convening for a key gathering that opened last Wednesday in Hanoi. Disciplinary actions against senior Party members are a major theme of the meeting.

Anh’s violations sparked annoyance among Communist Party members, state officials and the public, and were serious enough to merit punishment, the Party said in a statement on Friday.

In fact, his punishment was practically a foregone conclusion as last week, the Party’s top watchdog gave an inkling of what would become of Anh after implicating him for misconduct, mismanagement and dishonesty.

The Central Inspection Committee concluded last Friday that Anh had violated the Party’s democratic centralism principles by making multiple decisions without consulting others, besides personal misconduct. He also set a bad example by accepting a car and two houses as gifts from businesses, the committee said, while his academic credentials have been brought into question.

Anh had also displayed signs of nepotism, the Politburo said, without elaborating.

Embarking on his career as a journalist, Anh quickly rose through the ranks of Vietnam's political apparatus. In 2014, when he became vice Party chief of Da Nang, analysts said the major challenge for young leaders like him would be the formal and informal institutional arrangements within the state that limited the efficiency, efficacy and transparency of government.

For some, the challenge would also lie in the battle against the deep-seated public grievance against a political apparatus that has been plagued by nepotism and cronyism and not based on meritocracy.

Anh is the son of Nguyen Van Chi, who used to chair the very watchdog that has proposed punitive measures against him. He was elected Da Nang's Party chief in October 2015 at the age of 39 and became one of the two youngest Party chiefs in Vietnam besides Nguyen Thanh Nghi in the southern province of Kien Giang. Nghi is the son of Vietnam’s former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

"That was a swift fall from grace," Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based Southeast Asia analyst, said of Anh's dismissal.

His fate has been dominating daily gossip in what has been widely dubbed "Vietnam's most livable city" among average citizens and local bureaucrats alike.

“People are likely to pay attention to what happens in Da Nang, which became an acknowledged model of smart governance,” David Brown, a retired U.S. diplomat and expert on Vietnam, said.

“They're also likely to keep a close eye on Nguyen Xuan Anh, one of the Party's princelings,” Brown said.

Da Nang has gained kudos as one of the most modern places in the country, and its leadership is often hailed as an example to follow. Yet following a recent spate of management scandals, the Party’s top watchdog last month proposed disciplinary measures against Anh and Huynh Duc Tho, Da Nang’s chairman.

Tho has received a warning from the Party, which has four modes of punishment for misconduct by official members: reprimand, warning, demotion and expulsion. He has been held mainly accountable for land management violations in the city. For a high-ranking official like Tho, receiving a warning also means that his position is anything but certain.

Da Nang will host world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in November.

On the eve of the Party meeting, Mai Tien Dung, minister and chairman of the Government Office, said the punishment facing Da Nang's two top leaders would not affect what will be Vietnam's most important political event this year. Preparations for the summit have been calibrated and managed by top leaders in Hanoi and are not intertwined with any action to be taken against the leaders of the host city, Dung said.


The interantional media center that willl host the APEC Summit in Da Nang. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Anh is the latest political casualty of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign, spearheaded by Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. He is the second top leader of a major Vietnamese city to be fired since May, an unusual move in a country that prizes political stability above all else.

Anh's dismissal is reminiscent of how the top leader of Ho Chi Minh, Dinh La Thang, was ousted. In May, Thang lost his post as well as his seat on the Politburo for “serious violations” while he was at the helm of energy giant PetroVietnam several years ago.

Restructuring and reorganizing are topping the agenda of the ongoing Party gathering. They have been a recurrent theme of Party conclaves in recent years, but with little progress, analysts say.

"This time around, the pressures for such reforms are getting more intense," said Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam analyst at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, which studies social, political and economic trends in the region.

It is "partly because of the severe implications of high-profile corruption cases for the reputation and the very survival of the regime, as well as for the country's economic performance. The impetus for change may therefore be stronger now," Hiep said.

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