Vietnam: Government, Politics and Constitutional Revision

Blog 75 - P Katz PictureThis week, TransLegal continues its guest blog by Pamela S. Katz focusing on the recent constitutional reform in Vietnam.  Pam and I met while studying at Georgetown University Law Center.  She is a Professor of Legal Studies and Political Studies at The Sage Colleges in upstate New York.  In 2012 – 2013, Pam was selected to be a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam where she taught at the University of Economics and Law in Ho Chi Minh City.  Pam’s interview on the Vietnamese Constitution with Pham Minh Tuan, Ph.D in Law, Deputy Director of the Institute of Politics and Public Administration II, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is fascinating.

This final part of the series examines events after Vietnam’s constitutional reform.

Contact TransLegal to learn about doing business in Vietnam.

Pamela S. Katz, Esq.

MARCHING IN PLACE TOWARDS DEMOCRACY:  ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK 

National Assembly of Vietnam, Hanoi Photo Credit: www.viajar24h.com via via Wikimedia Commons

National Assembly of Vietnam, Hanoi
Photo Credit: http://www.viajar24h.com via via Wikimedia Commons

Following Vietnamese politics and reform efforts since 2011 can give you whiplash:  feelings of great hope, then great despair sprinkled with the brain-numbing sensation previously experienced while Kremlin-watching during the Soviet era. The government cracked down on bloggers.   Then, calls to peacefully eject the National Assembly for their failure to adopt a final constitutional revision that lived up to people’s expectations were published on the Internet.  Le Hieu Dang, former Vice Chairman of the Advisory Council on Democracy and Law, part of the Central Committee of the Fatherland Front and one of the Petition 72 leaders, very publicly left the CPV in protest. His departure hinted at the tumult within the highest echelons of party leadership, which are largely kept from public view, leaving Hanoi-watchers to puzzle out the political maneuverings from opaque clues and rumors.  Some have boldly claimed a “leadership crisis” in the CPV, pointing to infighting between rival factions led by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Truong Tan Sang, respectively.  In 2012, the Politburo voted to essentially remove Prime Minister Dung from power, only to be reversed by the Central Committee.

Efforts are underway by Le Hiep Dang and others to advocate for a multiparty system, which, they say, is not intended to overthrow the CPV but create a beneficial pluralism. A new party called The Democrat Socialst Party has been formed.   A group called the “Civil Society Forum” has been established to “mobilize forces to officially challenge the Party.” Other prominent party members, former and current public officials and intellectuals are calling publicly for political reforms.  These will not go unchallenged by the CPV.  In addition to maneuverings taking place in Hanoi beyond the public eye, more obvious limitations on dissenters are apparent:

Ha Long Bay Photo Credit: Thomas Hirsch via Wikimedia Commons

Ha Long Bay
Photo Credit: Thomas Hirsch via Wikimedia Commons

  • More frequent use of Article 258 of the penal code, which permits arrest and detention for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “subverting state interests.”
  • an activist, Nguyen Phuong Uyen was convicted in a secret trial of taking photographs at a political protest in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • a journalist, Nguyen Dac Kien, was fired from his newspaper for his blog’s implicit criticism of a Party official in relation to the revision process.
  • a reported 50 Vietnamese bloggers and activist were convicted of crimes related to their advocacy from January through May of 2013.
  • In July, 2013, the government issued Decree 72, which is intended to further reign in the blogosphere, “prohibiting the posting of material that ‘opposes’ the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and  ‘harms national security’ and other vague terms.

There is a feeling in Vietnam that they are “on the brink” of something, but whether that is an authoritarian crack down or a progressive opening-up is the question.

Ho Chi Minh City  Photo Credit: TomW712 via Wikimedia Commons

Ho Chi Minh City
Photo Credit: TomW712 via Wikimedia Commons

CONCLUSION

The ability of economic openness to advance democracy in Vietnam is uncertain.  The mechanism for this to happen is, at best, indirect.  The degree of economic openness available in a single-party, socialist nation may be limited by its nature as is the degree and style of self-government.  The unique effort to engage the public in its constitutional revision process is a positive move, tempered by the government’s compelling interest in maintaining stability necessary for economic development, among other things.  As the Vietnamese government and the CPV engage in power struggles at its highest levels, the activists, both foreign and domestic, and an increasingly educated and cosmopolitan public, will be working to move the debate forward.  The hunger for change is coming from within, rather than, as in the past, under the influence of a foreign power. The end result is unclear: what is certain is that the chances for peaceful reform must also come from within–be homegrown and nurtured–within the distinctive history and culture of Vietnam.

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