Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang stands in front of a statue of Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese national flag before a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi in early September. (Kham/Reuters)

Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang, one of the three most powerful leaders in the country despite his largely ceremonial role, died Friday at age 61, according to state media. 

Quang died in a military hospital in Hanoi after “utmost efforts to treat him by Vietnamese and foreign doctors and professors,” said an announcement on state media. It did not elaborate on his illness or the specific cause of his death. 

His death opens up a power vacuum in the communist country, which has no paramount head of state. Power is shared among the president, the prime minister, the Communist Party chief and the head of the legislature, the National Assembly. 

Quang was active as recently as this week, when he attended a reception for a Chinese delegation. Last week, he hosted a visiting delegation from Cuba in Hanoi and met with Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader, Aung
San Suu Kyi, while she was in
the Vietnamese capital for
the World Economic Forum’s regional meeting in Southeast Asia. 

Quang also hosted President Trump during his first state visit to Vietnam last year and, before that, President Barack Obama when he visited in 2016. 

Rumors of Quang’s ill health had been swirling in recent months. Observers of Vietnamese politics say he had been doing less and was slowly fading from public view, probably because of his illness. 

Though the presidency has been a largely ceremonial role, the exact iteration of this position and how much power it wields “depends largely on the personality” of the individual, said Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst specializing in Vietnam at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

Quang’s death “creates a vacuum in the highest levels of power within the Politburo,” she said. “Who will come up, and what’s next?” 

Quang was born in a farming community in Ninh Binh, a province south of Hanoi. He attended a police college and quickly rose through the party ranks in Vietnam’s powerful Politburo, the country’s main decision-making body.

He was appointed minister of public security in 2011, a position with wide-ranging powers including intelligence gathering. He was elected president in April 2016. 

He is the second sitting president in the country to die in office. The last was Ho Chi Minh, the communist revolutionary and Vietnam’s independence hero, who died as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s first president in 1969.

The powers and role of the job have varied since.