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Vietnam - Elections - 2011

In January 2011 the party’s central committee re-elected Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the Politburo. Despite the country’s economic problems, he was widely expected to be re-appointed to another term as prime minister later in the year. However, the central committee placed two of his rivals for the top spot high up in the Politburo membership, an indication, some political analysts said, of the party’s attempt to balance the prime minister’s power.

Parliamentary elections were held May 22, 2011. These elections, were neither free nor fair. The Vietnamese Fatherland Front [VFF] chose and vetted all candidates. The ratio of “independent” candidates (those not linked to a certain organization or group) to other candidates was lower than that of the 2007 election. The CPV approved 15 “self-nominated” candidates who did not have official government backing but were allowed to run. There were credible reports that party officials pressured many other self-nominated candidates to withdraw or found such candidates “ineligible” to run.

The National Assembly had reportedly been gaining power in recent years. In June 2010, It rejected a US$ 56 billion bullet train project, following which the Speaker asked the Government to submit a more detailed plan to the Parliament. Many parliamentarians had reportedly questioned the economic viability of the project, which was estimated to cost an amount equal to half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). In November 2010, several parliamentarians called for an investigation to determine whether cabinet members, including the Prime Minister, were in any way responsible for massive losses incurred at a State-owned shipbuilding conglomerate. Prime Minister Dung admitted his responsibility in the conglomerate's downfall and pledged to make public alleged wrongdoing by Cabinet members.

Sixty million people cast ballots for 500 members of the lawmaking National Assembly, which has in the past served largely as a rubber stamp for the Communist Party’s leadership but has begun to take on a more outspoken role. But voters expected few surprises from the election, in which voting is mandatory and 86 percent of the candidates are Communist Party members.

A total of 61,900,000 votes were cast, 99.52% of registered voters. According to the government, more than 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2011 election, a figure that international observers considered improbably high. (Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and local authorities are charged with assuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and assuring all voters within their jurisdiction are recorded as having voted.) CPV candidates won 458 of the 500 seats. Four of the 15 self-nominated candidates won. A further 38 seats were won by candidates running under the Vietnamese Fatherland Front Coalition, with the Communist Party of Vietnam.

In July 2011 the country's main lawmaking body, the National Assembly voted in two political rivals for the top two positions. One of them, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, was re-elected for a second five-year term. A day earlier, his rival Truong Tan Sang, second-in-command of the communist party was elected president. Some observers say that while the new leadership is unlikely to herald a revolution in the one-party state's political system, the rivalry between the two men could nevertheless mark important changes.

The differences between the reality of Vietnamese politics and its public face is putting pressure on the National Assembly to start behaving as the highest organ of the people. The National Assembly, although subject to CPV control (all of its senior leaders and more than 90 percent of its members are party members), continued to take incremental steps to assert itself as a legislative body. The National Assembly and its Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee met in February 2012 with government-invited foreign experts to discuss lessons learned and best practices as the country proceeds toward amending its 1992 constitution.

The 175-member party central committee met for two weeks in October 2012 to discuss a long list of topics, ranging from economic reform and land use to education. The run-up to what was usually a low-key event attracted international attention following several arrests over a banking scandal and the publication in political blogs of material highly critical of the 62-year-old prime minister, whom many blamed for the country’s economic crisis. In a nationally broadcast speech at the conclusion of the meeting, party secretary Nguyen Phu Trong apologized for the mismanagement of the struggling economy. Trong said the party had made some big mistakes, especially in not preventing corruption and deterioration among some of its members.

Some analysts had expected scandal-ridden Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to be ousted during the meeting. Dung established his political support base by achieving high economic growth rates. Under his command, Vietnam was focused on becoming the world’s leading shipbuilder. That goal was derailed by the global financial crisis, followed by massive corruption scandals. In the run-up to the meeting, some analysts predicted Dung would be ousted by his rivals, President Truong Tan Sang and Party Secretary Trong.

Under a law passed in late November 2011 and scheduled to become effective in 2013, the president, prime minister, cabinet members, Supreme People’s Court justices, and the National Assembly president must submit to an annual vote of support in the National Assembly. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and 46 other top-ranking ministers and officials faced a vote of “high confidence,” “confidence,” or “low confidence” by secret ballot from the 498-member National Assembly, the country’s rubber stamp parliament.

Nearly one-third of Vietnam’s lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s performance in the first ever confidence vote, state media reported 11 June 2013, amid reports of a power struggle within the leadership of the ruling communist party. Dung received more than 160 negative votes, representing more than 32 percent of assembly members—the third worst rating received by an official in the rare display of scrutiny. President Truong Tan Sang, who is seen as the main political opponent to Dung, received only 28 negative votes. He also received the third highest number of “high confidence” votes compared to Dung’s rank of 25th.

Dung’s poor rating follows his admission in October 2013 that he had failed to effectively lead Vietnam’s economy out of turmoil just one week after he effectively escaped a leadership change at a crucial ruling Communist Party central committee meeting where he was publicly rebuked over a string of scandals that were traced back to the country’s leadership. In addition to its failure to right an ailing economy and education system, the Communist Party has faced criticism in January 2013 for proposing a constitutional revision widely seen as undemocratic.

Vietnamese authorities had come under fire from human rights groups and some Western governments for jailing and harassing dozens of activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists since stepping up a crackdown on protests and freedom of expression online in recent years.

Some 500 intellectuals in Vietnam signed an online petition in January 2013 calling for a revision to the constitution which would allow for multi-party elections and for the separation of the country’s executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. Nguyen Dinh Loc, Vietnam’s former Minister of Justice, and just one of several former senior officials to have signed the petition, said that it was “obvious that there must be some changes” and that it was only “a matter of how much.”

Despite the desire of some external observers to frame Vietnamese intra-Party politics as a competition between two well-defined factions, the "conservative/ progressive" labels have become much less meaningful. There is no clear difference between progressive and conservative elements in terms of ideological belief and only a limited difference in terms of geographic origin. The only significant difference between them might be their attitude on how to promote national anti-corruption efforts and deal with corrupt officials and the speed they prefer for economic (and, to a lesser extent, political) reform.

Questioning Communist Party rule is considered a serious crime in Vietnam and dozens of activists and netizens have been arrested this year for anti-state activities. In early 2013, 72 Vietnamese intellectuals and activists, including longtime Communist Party members as well as government officials, signed a draft constitution proposing multiparty rule, garnering thousands of signatures of support after it was circulated online.

Campaigners expressed cynicism over the government practice of asking for public input on policy issues. "The call for consultation was a trap to lure opponents of the party out of the shadows," Nguyen Van Tam, a 48-year-old Catholic activist, told Agence France-Presse after the vote early 28 November 2013.

From the beginning of 2012 through late 2013, at least 65 peaceful dissidents had been sentenced to long prison terms in some 20 trials that failed to meet international standards, Amnesty International said. In a new report in NOvember 2013, Amnesty listed 75 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, some of whom it said have been locked up in harsh conditions for years. "Vietnam is fast turning into one of Southeast Asia’s largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Vietnam researcher. "The government’s alarming clampdown on free speech has to end,” he said.

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