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Vietnam nominates party chief as new president

Vietnam's Communist Party's Generel Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong   © AP

HANOI (Reuters) -- Vietnam's ruling Communist Party has agreed to nominate its General Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, as president of the Southeast Asian country, Vietnam's government said on Wednesday.

Former president Tran Dai Quang died on Sept. 21 after a prolonged illness, leaving the mainly ceremonial position open.

"The central committee agreed unanimously to propose that the National Assembly vote on the nomination of comrade Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, as president," the government said in an official statement on its website.

Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by four "pillars": its president, prime minister, the chief of its Communist Party and the national assembly chair.

If approved, Trong will become the first Vietnamese leader to hold the two titles since founding president and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh.

The 74-year-old party leader has presided over a crackdown on corruption that has seen state executives and a member of the politburo face trial over allegations of financial mismanagement and embezzlement.

Although the presidential post has been largely ceremonial, the move will strengthen Trong's grip over the country after he emerged on top in a 2016 power struggle against former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

But it could also be subject to local criticism, said Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at Leiden University.

"Such an approach would be met with broad scepticism from large shares of the party in public and could easily result in a situation in which a particular leader could impose their will in a way not seen since the strong man regime of Le Duan," said London, referring to Vietnam's party chief during its conflict with the United States.

A vote on the nomination will be put to Vietnam's rubber-stamp National Assembly which is in session later this month.

No other candidates have been proposed for the job.

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