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Why President Trump Will Be Much Happier as the Leader of Vietnam

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Photo credit: Slate.

President Donald Trump is coming to Vietnam on an official visit for the APEC meetings from November 10-11. He could have been in this country much sooner had he not avoided the draft during the Vietnam War.

I am not sure President Trump knows where Vietnam exactly is on the map (which is quite usual for a lot of foreigners), but he will certainly fall in love with the country when he comes here this time, especially after hearing what I am about to disclose.

Let me take this opportunity to send him a few words of regards and explain to him why I think so.

But before I forget, let’s start with the same premise: one must be a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam to become the country’s leader.

1. Forget about the Democrats: They are already extinct.

The last time Vietnamese people saw a glimpse of a “democrat” was back in … 1988, when the fake Democratic party (yeah, we had such things back then – they were basically puppets formed by the communists themselves) disbanded under the order of the Communist Party. Basically, President Trump, you and your chosen party will enjoy absolute power here.

The Vietnam’s Constitution clearly states that the Communist Party is the force which leads both the government and society. In fact, it is the only one ruling the country.

So, no worries about the opposition. You’re far, far away from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Nancy Pelosi. You will win every election, and win big. When I say “big”, that means more than 90% of the popular votes where every single eligible adult in the country will vote, not just the “landslide victory” last year in the U.S.

2. You have the entire Congress in your party’s hand, not just a simple majority.

There is no need to battle with anyone in Congress. “Repeal and Replace” could be done very easily, right then and there. As well as the tax bill. And the annual budget bill. Basically, everything and anything.

Congressional hearings are extremely rare for top leaders like you. Your cabinet members may be questioned by Congress, but in general, no one would throw stones in their faces like how the Democrats treat you, your staff, and the Republicans. Congress is also more laid back, as they only meet twice a year, each time for one month.

How could Vietnam achieve such harmony between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch?

Just imagine your Republican fellows occupy 95% of the seats in Congress and the remaining 5% are all your friends and good friends. This is because our unique election laws were designed to prevent non-communist candidates from running right from the first place. Nobody else but communist members and their close allies can go pass the three rounds of pre-election vetting, which of course are held by the communist-organized body called the Fatherland Front (such patriotic name, you will love it!).

3. You don’t have to deal with the media because independent news does not exist.

I know the media in the States is extremely annoying, and they just never leave you alone. Here in Vietnam, you are untouchable. What does that mean? It means you can do whatever and say whatever, not a single journalist dares to criticize you.

Heaven on Earth! Why is that?

Because you and your party control the entire media. So, there is no CNN, no Washington Post, no New York Times, leave alone Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. Only Fox News, Breitbart and the likes are allowed. Not only that, those that are allowed must also report news as they were ordered by you and your party. Imagine, even Steven Colbert must listen to and follow every word of yours! That’s true respect, isn’t it?

Some crazy leftists at organizations like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders may put your country at the bottom of the Press Freedom Index, but who cares, right?

4. Just in case anyone criticizes you, you can always lock them up, for years.

We have already put thousands of dissidents in jail already. In the past, we even made them…disappeared.

Really, if you find anyone who writes some short statement about you on Facebook or Twitter that annoys you, then your police can come and arrest such person right away, then put him/her in jail for, says two years or more without trials. The courts – which totally under your direct control – could also sentence a lawyer to seven years of imprisonment if he dares to sue you. Or, they could put another lawyer who always criticizes you (imagine the ACLU and their lawyers, I know how much you hate them) in prison for five years because…he has criticized you.

You often feel frustrated that it takes forever to lock up that woman, right? In Vietnam, we recently locked up a woman whom the government does not like very much in June – a female pro-democracy blogger called Mother Mushroom – for ten full years after a day of trial, sweet and simple. (By the way, your wife, Melania, gave Mother Mushroom the Women of Courage award earlier this year, though. So, I thought you would want to check with her on this, just to be safe.)

5. There is no court that would stop you from issuing or enforcing executive orders.

This is an interesting part. Of course, you must be very upset with those federal courts issuing restraining orders on your travel bans one after another. In fact, you also know that you must deal with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and others at some points. Furthermore, you cannot be certain whether Neil Gorsuch may turn his back on you one day and side with those leftists all the way on issues like abortion and affirmative action cases.

But, here in Vietnam, every single judge will be your party’s members (I mean the “sworn allegiance to” kind of members, not just registered voters), and they will always obey your party’s rules from the top down. That means whatever is your call, they will follow. No questions asked!

The so-called “judicial review” also does not exist in our country. A lot of executive orders and legal documents are clearly unconstitutional, but no one gives a damn. Let me give you an example.

Four years ago, our Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed two decrees, 72 and 174, regulating that criticizing the government on the Internet was prohibited and could be fined up to $4,700 USD (about twice the average annual income for a Vietnamese). Those two decrees were not only unconstitutional, but also directly contradicting international human rights law, and were widely condemned by the international community, including your country back then. But so far, no one had been able to challenge them in any court in Vietnam because simply put, our judicial system was set up in such a way that such efforts would be futile from the beginning: no courts will accept those filings. Problems solved.

6. The term “special prosecutor” is non-existent and will never come into existence.

Investigating our country’s top leaders is absolutely impossible. In fact, none of them has been in such situation since the Communist Party took power in 1945.

You would love this fact: Vietnamese prosecutors cannot investigate any communist member without the party’s permission. Thus, it is outright prohibited! Nobody is going to thumb their nose into your and your family’s business.

There is no Robert Mueller here, believe me. Never.

7. Tax returns? They are there, but rules don’t apply to you.

In Vietnam, everyone knows our leaders are rich. Maybe some of them are even as rich as you are. But no one knows exactly how rich they are, and no one dares to ask them to show their tax returns.

We have a huge (I mean really, bigly huge) problem with transparency. Another left-wing (perhaps fake?) organization called Transparency International ranks Vietnam at 113/176 on their Corruption Perceptions Index in 2016 with only 33/100 scores. But that’s a good thing for you, right?

If you are the top leader in Vietnam, you don’t have to bother with the media complaining about your frequent flights to Mar-a-Largo or how much money you have made off your presidency because no one will have the guts to ask. And those who do, you can just put them in jail. What a life!

8. Last, but not least: Endless golfing.  

This, nevertheless, is as important as anything I have mentioned above. You love golf, and we, the Vietnamese, do too. We basically have golf courses popping up at every single corner across our country. And, you can play golf as much as you want, just remember to not disappear for too long during your term. The public doesn’t even know you go play golf, let alone complain about it – because there is no “fake news” here to report on that, only your news, remember?

Is this the vision of the great country that you have been talking about, or perhaps, maybe dreaming of?

Then, President Trump, welcome to Vietnam!

Politics

Robbery Unwittingly Exposes Potential Corruption In Vietnam

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Comics about the BOT robbery exposing potential corruption on Tuoi Tre Comics. Photo courtesy: Tuoi Tre Cuoi.

The story first sounded like the twisted plot of a comedy about feudal Vietnam a few centuries back. It went like this:

Three bad guys robbed a court official’s post and shocked the township when news on the enormous amount of money the robbers had taken, spread like wildfire. The officials scrambled to explain the origin of the funds while trying to scale down its size, but only to raise even more suspicion on their corruption among the public.

It was, however, not a movie plot but a real story in Vietnam 2019 with a small difference: the location of the robbery was a well-known BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booth near Ho Chi Minh City.

During the Tet celebration last week, three men robbed the BOT booth of the Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway in Dong Nai Province. They allegedly took over 2B VND or approximately 86k USD at once. The amount was rumored to be from only one shift of the BOT’s collection activities that day.

Netizens were quick to point out that the robbery happened during the biggest holiday in the country where traffic flow through the main highways and expressways decreased dramatically in Vietnam, leading people to believe that the usual amount this particular BOT booth collects during a regular day would have been a lot higher.

The BOT’s owner – Vietnam Expressway Services Engineering Joint Stock Company (VEC E) – tried to diffuse the situation in an interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper on February 8, 2019, the day after, stating that the amount taken was collected from eight different shifts, not one.

But by then, the amount taken by the robbers was no longer the public’s primary concern.

Instead, people started to demand answers on the validity of the very existence of the toll booth. According to the Facebook page of journalist Ngo Nguyet Huu, the information on how long this particular BOT could continue to collect toll fees seemed to be missing.

Quick math on the average amount of money the BOT booth could generate daily raised more concerns over the potential sum that could have been taken illegally from the commuters if it indeed, did not have the authority to collect.

Some people had pointed out that the BOT booth in question has been operating long enough for it to recover the costs of construction and make enough money in return, casting more doubts on the legality of its existence.

To add fuel to the fire, on February 11, 2019, people on social media went livid when VEC E announced that it would refuse services to two particular vehicles at their Ho Chi Minh-Dau Giay BOT booth indefinitely, alleging the drivers of these cars “had incited disorder behaviors.” Its decision would have the effect of not letting these two cars use the expressway where the BOT booth is located.

Almost immediately, netizens started to call VEC E’s action “unconstitutional,” violating the people’s freedom of movement. Others questioned the company’s authority to enforce their decision. Although considered as a “quasi” government enterprise in Vietnam due to its investment structure, whether VEC E could act under “state action” is still debatable.

The people’s anger has caused the Transportation Department to immediately reassure the public on February 12, 2019, that it will not allow VEC E to refuse services and that all violations at BOT booths should be dealt with according to Vietnam’s administrative procedures.

Allegations of corruption involving BOT booths have been raised in numerous cases in Vietnam recently, and some saw VEC E’s announcement as evidence of BOT’s investors acting under the “protection” of the authorities.

A group of drivers acting as Vietnam’s freedom riders has been protesting against some BOT booths where they openly questioned the legality of some of these booths.

Their works faced intimidation, false imprisonment, and physical assaults by masked men in civilian clothes when they protested at or near the locations of these BOTs.

When these drivers tried to complain to the authorities but only received a slow, and sometimes even no response from the local police forces, the public began to suspect shady business deals between the owners of the BOT projects and the officials.

One of the latest incidents of intimidation happened just last Saturday night, February 9, 2019. A driver names Nguyen Quang Tuy alleged that he was physically assaulted and suffered significant injuries after getting involved in a minor dispute over payment types at Ben Thuy BOT in Nghe An Province.

More Vietnamese people have become vocal and voiced their complaints and discontentment about the BOT fees because they see these as unreasonable additions to the transportation taxes already imposed on them by the government for roads maintenance.

During the past two years, with more than 60 booths stationed throughout the country’s main highways and expressways, BOT is a social and political problem that could only get more severe with time.

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Vietnam: When Workers’ Rights Face Resistance From A Socialist Government

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Vietnamese factory workers. Photo courtesy: Betterwork.org

Vietnam’s dismal human rights records in 2017 and 2018 could play a role in delaying the ratification of the much anticipated European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EV-FTA) this year.

A group of MEPs from across the EU Parliament’s political spectrum has repeatedly demanded that Vietnam improves its human rights conditions before they would vote on the trade deal.

The latest demand was a joint letter to President Nguyen Phu Trong on February 1, 2019, sent by nine MEPs on the case of Hoang Duc Binh, an environmental and labor rights activist who was sentenced to 14-year-imprisonment in 2018.

Releasing political dissidents and activists would indeed be a sensitive issue for the communist regime to compromise, even for the sake of clinching the ambitious EV-FTA deal where Vietnam could expect a 15% GDP gain.

But there has always been another human rights condition which one would assume that it should have received natural cooperation from the socialists in Hanoi: the ratification of the remaining three ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions.

That, however, has not been the case.

Vietnam, while rejoined the ILO since 1993, to date, has yet to ratify the following three conventions:

  • ILO Convention No. 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
  • ILO Convention No. 98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
  • ILO Convention No. 105 – Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)

In late 2018, Vietnam ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP) where a specific clause (Article 19) also addresses similar conditions regarding labor and workers’ rights.

On the ground, the Vietnamese government is proposing a roadmap that could take almost five years to get all three ILO conventions ratified.

It is not fast enough for the EU’s MEPs, and as of right now, these ILO conventions continue to be part of the obstacles to move the EV-FTA forward.

Vietnam maintains that its current Labor Code and legal framework would protect the rights of workers in the country while waiting for the Draft of the amended Labor Code to be reviewed and passed by its Congress later in 2019, paving the way for the ratification of the ILO conventions to take place between now and 2023.

In reality, impracticality contradicts the government’s claim.

For example, it is not meaningful to discuss the right of association and the protection of the right to organize according to ILO Convention No. 87 when Vietnam, to date, has refused to pass laws on the freedom of association and the right to assemble and demonstrate although their Constitution of 2013 guarantees these rights to all of its people.

Participation in demonstrations, moreover, could likely lead to arrest, detention, and conviction for “inciting public disorder” in Vietnam.

In June 2018, mass protests broke out in a few major cities against the then pending draft bills of the cybersecurity law and the development of three special economic zones in Vietnam. In response, the police arrested and detained hundreds of people.

One of the “hot spots” considered by the police of Ho Chi Minh City as reported by state-owned media at the time, was near the Taiwanese Pou Yuen factory in Binh Tan District where some workers did join in the protests between June 9 and June 13, 2018.

According to the organization The 88 Project, more than 60 people were arrested, tried, and sentenced to between 24-36 months imprisonment due to their participation in those demonstrations. Some of them are believed to be factory workers from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

The legal system continues to create hurdles in the registration processes for independent organizations. It is an issue which the UN Human Rights Committee has brought up with Vietnam before its upcoming CCPR (Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) review in March 2019.

At the end of 2016, Vietnam had attempted – but failed – to pass the Law on Association when it faced a defiant opposition from civil society organizations, both registered and unregistered.

One of the reasons which caused the majority of NGO workers in Vietnam to go against the proposed bill then, was because it attempted to criminalize the receiving of foreign funding and gave preferential treatment to GONGO(s) (Government-organized non-governmental organizations).

The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) – the only labor union in Vietnam right now – is not only a GONGO but also takes directives from the Vietnamese Communist Party.

During his speech in front of the National Assembly on November 2, 2018, the Vice-Chairman of the VGCL, Ngo Duy Hieu, cautiously reaffirmed that the ratification of the CP-TPP requires Vietnam to recognize independent unions while tried to cast doubts on their credibility.

At the same time, the government has yet to legally recognize any organization – large or small – formed by private citizens that could remotely represent an independent union for workers.

Vietnam, in 2017, reported an estimated population of approximately 26M workers in a variety of different industries.

The possibility of getting arrested and jailed under the current legal scheme, however, did not seem to deter a portion of these Vietnamese workers from exercising their rights.

Protests organized by workers continued to happen in Vietnam regardless, with the most common reason often linked to improving wages and working conditions – which ILO Convention 97 on collective bargaining could help.

Indeed, the government probably has already anticipated that the ratification of the ILO conventions would encourage even more workers to come together and organize themselves, independent from the VGCL in the future, once the legal landscape changes.

It is a slippery slope that Hanoi fears as it may spread to other sectors in society, which could explain the cautious approach in their proposed roadmap for the ratification of the three ILO conventions.

Accordingly, Vietnam proposed that they will present the National Assembly with the Draft of the amended Labor Code in May 2019 and expected the new law would pass at the next congressional meeting in October 2019. Also in 2019, the President will present ILO Convention No. 98 to the National Assembly for ratification. Next, it would be ILO Convention 105 in 2020, and finally ILO Convention No. 87 to be presented in 2023.

The proposed roadmap by the Vietnamese government, however, seems to have failed to convince the EU Parliament that workers’ rights are being protected, enough to move the EV-FTA forward.

The European Council has delayed their vote for EV-FTA last month. With the deadline for amendments also get postponed indefinitely, it is unlikely that the current EU Parliament will vote on the EV-FTA before their upcoming election in May 2019.

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Vietnamese Communist Party Turns 89, And The People May Have Had Enough

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Hanoi during the VCP's anniversary celebration in 2017. Photo courtesy: Zing VN

February 3, 2019, the Vietnamese Communist Party celebrates its 89th anniversary.

In a recent speech to commend the auspicious event, Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong wrote: “The Party stays strong, the country prospers, the people concur.”

However, on Facebook, the people’s reactions to both Trong’s writing and other propaganda, do not seem to show a public consensus as to the VCP’s leadership role in Vietnam.

Today, the users’ reactions to a posting on Facebook seem to suggest the Party’s legitimacy is being called into question by the very people it tries to lead.

A Facebook page names Vietnam’s Politics (Chính trị Việt Nam) identifies itself as a source for government’s news and uses a webpage domain of www.nguyenxuanphuc.org – which also is the name of the country’s current Prime Minister.

The website posted a piece of writing entitles “Our Party” (Đảng Ta) in celebration of the anniversary.

The writing did not deviate far from other propaganda materials in past decades, praising the accomplishment of the VCP, reaffirming its leading role in society for years to come, and confessing the love of the Vietnamese people for the Party.

However, Facebook users were not willing to let that slides and quickly took the opportunity to express their distrust and unhappiness with the way “Our Party” has been leading society and the country in the comment section.

A few hours after its posting on Facebook, the piece received over 400 reactions from Vietnamese users, about one-fourth of them was the “laughing” icon.

Not stopping at that, the majority of the people who commented also raised a series of issues, such as corruption and nepotism within the VCP. They also questioned the legality of the recent National Assembly’s election result and pointed out the wealth discrepancy between the VCP’s members and the non-member citizens.

The overall picture of the people’s reactions on the post shows an alarming sense of distrust in the VCP, leaving doubts to the other readers as to whether the VCP could still maintain the position of the leading and only political party in the country indefinitely.

Other reactions from the Vietnamese people to the political events in another country during the past few weeks may cause the leaders of the VCP more worries.

The recent political turmoil in Venezuela has been receiving a lot of attention in Vietnam with the majority of the people supporting Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition front. When Nicolas Maduro used the example of another Vietnam to warn against an American invasion, he probably did not know that the majority of Vietnamese are strong supporters of the Trump administration’s decision to back his political opponent.

Back to the comments on this posting, it is not difficult to detect that the support for the VCP among its non-member citizens is waning. While the VCP certainly can continue to enjoy the political monopoly for being the only political party in the country, even its top officials may not be sure of its future – if and when a political opposition surfaces.

The lacking of confidence that it still has the mandate to maintain the legitimacy among the majority of Vietnamese people could explain the VCP’s enhanced oppression against political dissidents in recent years.

Most recent was the Party’s effort to silent online criticisms with the new cybersecurity law of 2018.

Vietnamese internet users appear to be very well aware of the purpose and intention of the government in passing such law.

One comment on the post did mention the potential application of the new cybersecurity law against internet users in cases like this: “The page administrator purposely posted this (writing) to incite the people to react and then (the government) threatens us with the cybersecurity law.”

At the same time, there are no clear signs that online activism in Vietnam has been slowing down since the new law takes effect earlier this year although it is true that just in January 2019, there have been reports of two confirmed arrests of Facebookers and one incident of police questioning a university student over his Facebook’s activities.

Vietnam has been increasingly repressive in the past two years. Not only the number of arrests have been steadily on the rise, but the sentences in political cases also became a lot harsher compared to a few years ago, often in the range of one to two decades behind bars.

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