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Vietnam - Elections - 2007

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with a population of approximately 86 million, is an authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The National Assembly elections, held in May 2007, were neither free nor fair, since all candidates were vetted by the CPV's Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella group that monitored the country's mass organizations. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. As in previous elections fighting corruption and improving the education system were the main issues in 2007. Many candidates also argued the need for greater integration within the global economy. Viet Nam joined the World Trade Organization only in January 2007.

The government's human rights record remained unsatisfactory. Citizens could not change their government, and political opposition movements were prohibited. The government continued to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and causing several dissidents to flee the country. Police sometimes abused suspects during arrest, detention, and interrogation. Corruption was a significant problem in the police force, and police officers sometimes acted with impunity. Prison conditions were often severe. Individuals were arbitrarily detained for political activities and denied the right to fair and expeditious trials. The government continued to limit citizens' privacy rights and tightened controls over the press and freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association. The government maintained its prohibition of independent human rights organizations. Violence and discrimination against women remained a concern. Trafficking in persons continued to be a significant problem. Some ethnic minority groups suffered societal discrimination. The government limited workers' rights and arrested or harassed several labor activists.

Despite the CPV's early announcement that a greater number of "independent" candidates (those not linked to a certain organization or group) would run in the elections, the ratio of independents was only slightly higher than that of the 2002 election. The CPV approved 30 "self-nominated" candidates, who did not have official government backing but were given the opportunity to run for office. There were credible reports that party officials pressured many self-nominated candidates to withdraw or found such candidates "ineligible" to run.

According to the government, more than 99 percent of the 56 million eligible voters cast ballots in the election, a figure that international observers considered improbably high. Voters were permitted to cast ballots by proxy, and local authorities were charged with ensuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and that all voters within their jurisdiction were recorded as having voted. This practice was seen as having greatly detracted from the transparency and fairness of the process.

In the 2007 election, CPV leaders--Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Party Chief Nong Duc Manh, President Nguyen Minh Triet, and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong--retained their seats. CPV candidates took 450 of 493 seats. Only one of the 30 self-nominated candidates won.

The National Assembly, although subject to the control of the CPV (all of its senior leaders and more than 90 percent of its members were party members), continued to take incremental steps to assert itself as a legislative body. The National Assembly publicly criticized socioeconomic policies, the government's handling of inflation, and the plan to expand Hanoi's governing jurisdiction. Assembly sessions were televised live countrywide. Some deputies also indirectly criticized the CPV's preeminent position in society.

All authority and political power is vested in the CPV, and the constitution recognizes the leadership of the CPV. Political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal. The CPV Politburo functions as the supreme decision making body in the country, although it technically reports to the CPV Central Committee.

The government continued to restrict public debate and criticism severely. No public challenge to the legitimacy of the one party state was permitted; however, there were instances of unsanctioned letters critical of the government from private citizens, including some former senior party members, that circulated publicly. The government continued to crack down on the small opposition political groupings established in 2006, and members of these groups faced arrests and arbitrary detentions.

In 2007 Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai repeated his intention to step down in favor of a younger man. Khai spoke at the opening of the country's National Assembly, where his expected successor, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, was unusually visible. Nguyen Tan Dung was 56, and had been mentioned as a possible future prime minister ever since the 1990's. In 1996, he became the youngest member ever appointed to the all-powerful party Politburo. The following year he became a deputy prime minister, and in 1998 he took over as governor of Vietnam's state bank. He also served in the military and the Ministry of Public Security early in his career. Analysts say such connections add to his political strength. Mr. Khai and Dung are both southerners. Dung comes from Vietnam's southernmost province of Ca Mau. His becoming prime minister would help preserve the traditional geographical balance among Vietnam's top leadership, as Communist Party General-Secretary Nong Duc Manh is from the country's rural north.

Nguyen Tan Dung, 56, was the youngest prime minister since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. He previously served as deputy to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, who retired at age 72. The new president, Mr. Triet, 63, was Communist Party chief for the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He took over from President Tran Duc Luong, 69, who served two five-year terms.

The new prime minister, president and other high-ranking leaders were determined by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, at its meeting on the 27th and 28th of May. Only after the new leaders are approved by the Central Committee will the National Assembly have the chance to vote on them.

The government severely restricted freedom of association. Opposition political parties were neither permitted nor tolerated. The government prohibited the legal establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the CPVs Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) group. However, some entities, including unregistered religious groups, were able to operate outside of this framework with little or no government interference.

Officials continued to implement the June 2007 Ordinance on Grassroots Democracy, which allows villagers, with the participation of local VFF representatives, to convene meetings to discuss and propose solutions to local problems and nominate candidates for local leadership. The ordinance also requires commune governments to publicize how they raise and spend funds for local economic development.

Members of Bloc 8406, a political activist group that calls for the creation of a multiparty state, continued to face harassment and imprisonment. Its senior members were arrested and jailed in a crackdown beginning in 2007. In September authorities arrested an additional six members of Bloc 8406 for criticizing the government's response to China and economic policies. Other members faced severe harassment for their peaceful political activities. Bloc 8406 claimed more than 2,000 supporters inside the country, although this number could not be verified. At least 16 members of the group were in detention at year's end.

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