Political purge in Vietnam  

The Vietnamese Communist Party has experienced some instability with two Deputy Prime Ministers stepping down from the Politburo and, more recently, the President of Vietnam resigning from his position and abruptly retiring from politics.

In December 2022, two Vietnamese Deputy Prime Ministers Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam, who were also members of the Politburo and the Party Central Committee, resigned from their positions. Their resignations, according to the Deputy Head of the National Assembly Standing Committee, was due to personal wishes which were approved by the party with no further explanation behind their resignation given. With this, the party appointed Mr. Tran Luu Quang and Mr. Tran Hong Ha as replacements.

Less than a month later, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned from his roles, as the party’s Politburo member, Party Central Committee Member, President, and Chairman of Vietnam’s National Defense and Security Council, announcing he was retiring from politics altogether. According to the Communist Party, the reason for his resignation was due to wrongdoings and violations of officials under his command, resulting in the mass resignations. Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan will now take the role of Acting President until the Vietnamese National Assembly votes for another leader. The Vietnamese Communist Party, in an attempt to purge the Party from corruption and mismanagement, has prosecuted over 500 members and is investigating over 400 cases of corruption.

This follows three other high-level ministers – the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, the Health Minister, and the Party Chairman – being expelled from the party back in June 2022 over a bribery and corruption scandal where they were involved in equipping hospitals with overpriced COVID-19 prevention supplies. Reports released in October 2022 suggest that over 40,000 public servants resigned from the government sector between 2019 and 2022 citing low wages, poor opportunities, and bad working conditions.

Some believe that the raft of resignations and purging of government officials will likely continue. Observers have argued that the recent resignation of the President is due to corruption and rivalry within the party with others noting ineffective policies in managing COVID-19 as the primary reason for his departure. Another contributing factor is Vietnam’s economic and political instability due to the declining trust of  external investors. Some see the resignation as a win for the National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue who now has  a significant advantage in becoming the next Party’s General Secretary. As with any sudden change in leadership, the resignation could impact the country’s foreign policy, especially the balance of Vietnam’s relations with China and the United States.

The raft of recent resignations, even at the highest level of office, has put the spotlight on the country’s efforts to combat corruption. The country now must navigate this political instability to reform the government quickly to avoid escalation.

Malaysia’s national debt has reached over RM1.5 trillion  

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim addressed the nation urgently during the 2023 Budget dialogue as Malaysia’s national debt, including its liabilities, has reached over RM 1.5 trillion (over USD 346 billion) which is around 80% of the country’s GDP.

Malaysia’s budget deficit will be widening more than the estimated 5.8%, having a direct impact on the economy. In response, the country will repair the national budget’s leakages and will only push for only prioritizing projects while focusing on strengthening the country’s small and medium enterprises. The government will revise the national budget plan and send it to the Parliament by 24 February which will also take into account  inflation in the global economy.

Along with the economic minister’s suggestion to strengthen Malaysia’s fiscal management, the Prime Minister has urged the government to pursue wiser spending, confessing that this year’s fiscal spending will not be pleasant and businesses will not run as usual. Some have sought to measure the response, noting that the issue is not a concern so long as the nation’s assets are greater than the debt.

The debt is certainly a rocky start in 2023 for Malaysia, placing pressure on the country’s economic management to ensure the situation does not worsen.

President Joko Widodo’s approval rating hit a high record

Indonesian President Widodo’s approval rating hit a record high, according to the Lembaga Survei Indonesia as the country eased its COVID-19 restrictions.

The poll showed that satisfaction with President Jokowi’s leadership raised surprisingly to 76.2% in January 2023, compared to 62.5% in September 2022. The survey anticipates that this is the President’s highest record bolstered not only by Widodo’s decision to lift its COVID-19 measures, but also due to the assumption of the 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship.

The government’s abandonment of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions which has been seen as a way to increase economic growth, while the decrease in the country’s fuel prices is another catalyst to the approval hike. The reason the approval spike has surprised some is due to Widodo’s pursuit of the new controversial criminal code and emergency regulations. While these policies have been controversial, they have not directly impacted his popularity as the post-pandemic economic recovery is the most urgent priority.

On the backdrop of such successful approval ratings, many have speculated as to whether or not the next election in February 2024 will mark his final term, with some even naming a potential successor. Undoubtedly, 2023 has started well for President Widodo but there are many challenges that will confront the president as Indonesia manages several domestic and regional issues during their tenure as the ASEAN Chair that may see shifts in his domestic popularity.


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.