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Vietnam - Elections - 2002

Vietnam is a one-party state, ruled and controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The CPV's constitutionally mandated leading role and the occupancy of all senior government positions by party members ensured the primacy of Politburo guidelines and enabled the party to set the broad parameters of national policy. In recent years, the CPV gradually reduced its formal involvement in government operations and allowed the Government to exercise significant discretion in implementing policy. The National Assembly remained subject to CPV direction; however, the Government continued to strengthen the capacity of the 498-member National Assembly and to reform the bureaucracy.

Voters went to the polls on 19 May 2002 to elect an enlarged National Assembly. They had to elect 498 National Assembly members from 759 candidates in 188 constituencies, against 450 seats and 666 candidates in the last elections in 1997. Of the 759 candidates, 125 were non-partisan candidates, while the others were members of the Communist Party. The National Assembly candidates were vetted by the CPV's Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella group for the country's mass organizations.

The main campaign issue was the fight against corruption, at all levels of society, as increasingly widespread corruption and wealth of senior officials had become a major cause of dissatisfaction for voters. The media were full of revelations as to links between high-level police officers and party officials and well-known organised crime figures. In addition, three Communist Party officials were disqualified from the final list of candidates, one of them being linked to a major underworld figure who is in jail on murder charges. During the electoral campaign, party and State leaders vowed to do their utmost to ensure that the 11th National Assembly conducted its business efficiently, and the Communist Party leader described corruption as the number one poll issue.

The elections were seen as significant because for the first time, at least a quarter of the deputies will be full time, and the candidates contesting seats were younger and with higher academic qualifications than in previous elections. Also for the first time, the candidates were required to disclose their assets in an effort to combat corruption. Some 99 per cent of the nearly 50 million eligible voters cast ballots, according to final official figures.

Approximately 90 percent of elected delegates were CPV members. However, the National Assembly continued to play an increasingly independent role as a forum for local and provincial concerns and as a critic of local and national corruption and inefficiency and made progress in improving transparency in the legal and regulatory systems. The judiciary was subject to the influence of the CPV and the Government.

When the results were officially announced, they gave the Communist Party 447 seats and the remaining 51 seats to non-party members. The new National Assembly, that held its first sitting on 19 July 2002, has only 135 re-elected members, which means that 69.8 per cent of its members are newcomers. On that same date, it re-elected Nguyen Van An as its Speaker.

The National Assembly elected Phan Van Khai the new prime minister in November 1997. In July 2002, the National Assembly voted to keep Prime Minister Khai and President Luong in office until 2007. Khai, who is the oldest member of the cabinet and was known for his pro-reform policies, was believed likely to complete his 20027 term because of the absence of an heir apparent.

Citizens do not have the right to change their government peacefully through democratic means. Party control over the selection of candidates in elections for the National Assembly, the presidency, the prime ministership, and local government undermines this right. All authority and political power is vested in the CPV, and the Constitution declares the supremacy of the CPV; political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal.

The CPV Central Committee is the supreme decision-making body in the nation, with the Politburo as the locus of policymaking. During the Ninth Congress of the CPV in April 2001, the Party replaced the standing board, consisting of the five most senior members of the Politburo, with a nine-member Secretariat, consisting of the General Secretary, four lower ranking Politburo members, and four non-Politburo Central Committee members, to oversee day-to-day implementation of leadership directives. The Government continued to restrict public debate and criticism to certain aspects of individual, state, or party performance determined by the CPV itself. However, during the year and in 2001, legislators questioned and criticized ministers in sessions that were broadcast live on television. No public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party State is permitted; however, there were instances of unsanctioned letters critical of the Government from private citizens, including some former party members, that circulated publicly.

The Government strongly encouraged eligible citizens to vote in elections, although there is no legal penalty for not voting. Voting was not compulsory, but election officials applied many means to persuade citizens to vote, including using public address systems to ask late voting citizens by name to come to the polls. The Government claimed a 99.73 percent voter turnout for the May 19 National Assembly election. Proxy voting, while illegal, appeared widespread. In addition, most voting was over by 10:00 a.m., although polls were required to be open until 5:00 p.m. The party-controlled VFF approved all candidates for the 498-member assembly.

The National Assembly, although subject to the control of the Party (all of its senior leaders and 90 percent of its members also are party members), increasingly served as a forum for the expression of local and provincial concerns and as a critic of corruption and inefficiency. However, it does not initiate legislation and never has passed legislation that the Party opposed. Party officials occupied most senior government and National Assembly positions and continued to have the final say on key issues. In August the National Assembly debated the government's cabinet nominations; although it approved all of the nominations, more than 30 percent of the delegates voted against some nominees. During the year, the National Assembly continued to engage in public debate on economic, legal, and social issues. It also continued to exert its increasing power to revise or reject draft laws and actively pursued enhancing its capability to draft laws. In December 2001, the National Assembly rejected the government's preferred option on a large dam project. In June 2001, legislators apparently concerned that passage would lead to widespread miscarriages of justice, rejected a bill that could have granted district courts wider powers.

The law provides the opportunity for equal participation in politics by women and minority groups. Approximately 99 percent of women in the country voted. Women held a number of important government positions, including the Vice Presidency. There were 136 women in the 498-seat legislature; there were three women at the Ministerial level; and there were no women in the Politburo. There were only a few women in provincial level leadership positions.

According to government figures, approximately 99 percent of minorities in the country voted and 87 of the 498 National Assembly members belonged to ethnic minorities. The CPV General Secretary, formerly Chairman of the National Assembly, is a member of an ethnic minority group. However, the percentage of minorities in Government or national-level politics does not accurately reflect their numbers in the population.

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