A widely admired senior figure in Vietnam’s ruling communist party, Nguyen Ba Thanh, who enjoyed rare personal popularity in a nation better known for bureaucratic apparatchiks, died Friday from cancer, an official said.
The 61-year-old was the former top official in central Danang, and helped transform the coastal city into a tourism and investment hub by cutting corruption and red tape.
“He died Friday of cancer. We tried our best but he could not make it,” Luong Minh Sam, an official at the Danang People’s Committee told AFP.
“The people of Danang will always love him for his great contributions to this city,” he added.
Thanh had been unwell since May and had spent much of last year outside of Vietnam, receiving medical treatment in Singapore and the United States. He returned to Vietnam in January this year.
After his return, there was an explosion of online rumours that Thanh – who headed the communist party’s main anti-corruption body – was poisoned with a radioactive substances by a political rival.
Vietnamese authorities made a rare denial of the rumours, saying he had myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of cancer.
Unusually for a communist party official, Thanh was popular with the public. Known as “the King of Danang” he was a larger-than-life figure, popular with foreign investors and market vendors alike.
Hundreds of people gathered near his house in Danang to pay their respects to the man who led the city from 1997 to 2013 and helped it develop a vibrant tourism industry and emerge as a growing tech hub.
“The country has lost a talented official with a warm heart,” wrote Nguyen Hong Cuong on the state-run VNExpress website, one of thousands of comments posted online expressing sorrow for his death.
Many commentators hailed Thanh for his work for the poor, saying he was “a model” for other leaders to follow.
Some critics said he ruled Danang like “a dictator” and there were some allegations of corruption, but Thanh’s supporters strongly rejected both claims.
Thanh was transferred to Hanoi by the party in 2013 but had not enjoyed much success in his new position as head of the party central committee’s internal affairs commission, analysts said.
The posting was always set to be a tricky one, as with its anti-graft mission, it brought him up against powerful entrenched interests in the party.
The Communist Party of Vietnam is preparing for a major party congress and leadership change in 2016.