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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!

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Vietnam: How Powerful Is The Prime Minister?

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Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. Photo: quochoi.vn

Among the “four pillars,” the position of prime minister possesses both power and prestige.


In the spring of 2021, Vietnam has a new leader: Pham Minh Chinh, a former police intelligence officer and former head of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Organization Commission. On July 26, 2021, Pham Minh Chinh, once again, takes his oath to be the prime minister of Vietnam for the next 5 years.

One amongst “four pillars of the imperial court”

In the article “A few things you should know about Vietnam’s National Assembly chairmanship,” we wrote about the formation of the institutional division of power known as the “four pillars,” which includes the general secretary, the state president, the prime minister, and the chairman of the National Assembly.

If the state president and the chairman of the National Assembly, two among four of the most powerful positions in the Vietnamese Communist Party hierarchy, serve as primarily ceremonial positions, then the prime minister has both pomp and power, possessing broad authority in the governing system.

The prime ministership was once a position without any notable power. Before Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet’s term (1991-1997), previous prime ministers left a very little mark, except for Ho Chi Minh – who served as both state president and prime minister from 1946-1955.

Prime ministers after him, such as Pham Van Dong (1955-1987), Pham Hung (1987-1988), and Do Muoi (1988-1991), all served during periods where the government functioned according to the direction and management of the Party, rather than with tools of the executive branch. The same could be said during periods where Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan had overwhelming individual influence over the Party, causing other institutions and positions, including the prime ministership, to be subservient. 

In the 1980 Constitution, the government was called the Council of Ministers, with the prime minister position changed to the chairman of the Council of Ministers. This was an institution of collective leadership, with the powers of the chairman being minimal. With the 1992 Constitution, Vietnam reverted to the government mechanism in which the prime minister was head, concentrating greater power in his hands rather than practicing collective decision-making as in the past. Vo Van Kiet was the first prime minister to enjoy the new system under the 1992 Constitution.

With the depth and broadness of economic reform, the government’s role in managing national affairs grew by the day to more quickly, effectively, and dynamically respond to domestic and international developments. This increase in authority also served to more adequately address the increasing importance of foreign affairs in the age of globalization. The position of prime minister, thus, became extremely powerful. Nguyen Tan Dung (2006-2016) is seen as the most powerful prime minister ever and once competed fiercely for the position of general secretary. 

Who elects the prime minister?

Vietnam’s central government is modeled on the parliamentary system, with the central role (theoretically) held by the National Assembly. Constituents elect members of the National Assembly, and the National Assembly elects the government’s leadership figures, including the prime minister. (Obviously, everyone knows who actually “elects” the members of the National Assembly and the prime minister). The prime minister must be a member of the National Assembly.

Normally, electing the prime minister occurs during the first session of the new National Assembly term, after the general election, which occurs after the Party congress. In 2016, the procedure took an unusual turn: the National Assembly elected the new prime minister in the last meeting of its term in April, preceding the general election by more than a month. After the general election, the new National Assembly then repeated the election of the prime minister one more time. Nguyen Xuan Phuc was sworn into office twice in 2016. Pham Minh Chinh also had the same experience in 2021.

How powerful is the prime minister?

The prime minister’s powers are stipulated in Article 98 of the Constitution and Article 28 of the Law on Government Organization (ratified in 2015 and amended in 2019).

As head of state administration, this position has broad authority, from enforcing laws and organizing personnel to proposing and distributing the budget.

As a unitary state, the central government has overarching authority, with the prime minister’s power extending from the center all the way to the provinces and cities.

Outside his separate authority, the prime minister also has general authority over the collective decisions and resolutions of the cabinet.

For more details, please see the two documents described above. Here, we would like to list a few of the prime minister’s decision-making powers to demonstrate just how influential this position is in the economic sphere:

·      Regarding land: has the power to establish a council to assess land usage programs and plans at the national level; approves changes in land usage purposes on rice cultivation fields 10 hectares and above, protected and special-use forest land 20 hectares and above; decides the policy framework for compensation, support, and resettlement in special cases; decides price tables for province-level land in many cases; decides on several cases in which the usage rights for land the state allocates or leases are not auctioned.

·      Regarding investment: has the power to approve investment plans on the scale of airports, ports, oil and gas rigs, large urban areas, industrial zones, and export processing zones; approves investment plans overseas in banking, insurance, stocks, and telecommunications…from 400 billion dong and above, along with other projects involving capital of 800 billion dong and above.

Is prime minister the highest attainable position?

No. In the party power hierarchy, the general secretary remains at the top and is the most powerful position overall. 

There has never been a prime minister who has risen to become general secretary, except for Do Muoi, who was the chairman of the Council of Ministers. Nearly all served only one or two terms before retiring, except Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who served as prime minister and then stepped down to become state president, a much less powerful position. 

This article describes the power of the prime minister, but in actuality, we have only spoken of it in legal terms and in relation to the order of power in the party. The position’s power is also dependent on the individual’s level of influence within the party.

To put it another way, a leader’s power is the sum of his or her institutional power and individual sway. If the system bestows power but the individual leader doesn’t have the ability to wield it properly, then he does not have much power at all. Conversely, the system can bestow limited power, but an individual can exercise influence beyond his institutional limits. 


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on April 6, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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Vietnam’s State President: The Captain But Not Really A Captain

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State President of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In Vietnam, the position of state president is like that of a ship captain who completely got separated from the helm.


During his single term as the prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc became popular in the news for his words and promises to transform many provinces and cities in Vietnam into “captains,” from “economic captain” to “developmental captain.” Now, he himself has become the captain of Vietnam, as he accepted the position of state president – the legal head of state.

But like many other captains of years past, his position as the “captain” of Vietnam is not what it appears. Yes, he will work from No. 2 Hung Vuong Street in Hanoi’s old French palace that dates more than 100 years, where French governors-general and President Ho Chi Minh once sat, but he won’t have much real power. 

 “The four pillars” and the parliamentary system

The state president is normally drawn from the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party-normally, but not always. The exception is Ton Duc Thang, who succeeded Ho Chi Minh and served from 1969 to 1981. Ton Duc Thang was only a Party Central Committee member. 

In history, the most powerful state president of Vietnam was undoubtedly Ho Chi Minh, who held the position for more than 23 years, from 1946 until he died in 1969. During his years of greatest power, Ho Chi Minh also held the highest leadership position in the Communist Party and the position of prime minister until 1955. Between 1955 and 1960, Ho resigned as prime minister but held onto two other positions within the Party: party chairman and general secretary.

From 1960 onwards, Ho remained the party chairman and state president, but with the rise of Le Duan and his ascension to power, Ho Chi Minh was no longer the center of Vietnam’s political life. From then onwards, the role of state president slowly became largely ceremonial.

Ton Duc Thang, who was not elected into the Politburo, of course, held the position of state president, but he did not have much influence. His successor, Vo Chi Cong, on the other hand, was a member of the Politburo. But at the time, people didn’t call the position “State President,” but rather, “State Council President,” the council being an institution of collective leadership similar to the collective leadership structure of the Council of Ministers; this structure was originally borrowed from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and was incorporated wholesale into Vietnam’s 1980 Constitution. 

It was perhaps the next president, Le Duc Anh (1992-1997), who carved out a noteworthy role for the position of state president when he turned the role into an individual leadership position rather than a collective one. With his powerful influence derived from his time as defense minister, Le Duc Anh, along with General Secretary Do Muoi and Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, formed what journalist Huy Duc calls the “tripartite division of power.” At the time, the “four pillars” had yet to take shape clearly; it was not until the leadership transition in 1997 that this was established. 

In actuality, the designation “four pillars” refers to the order of power within the Party. At the same time, the position of the state president in a parliamentary system such as Vietnam’s is a formality that only carries ceremonial value rather than any real power.

What does it mean to be ceremonial?

The parliamentary system is special in that the person who leads the state (head of state) is not the head of the cabinet. For example, in nearly all European countries, the head of the cabinet is the prime minister, who is simultaneously the majority leader in parliament; the head of state is either the president or the king/queen. We can see that Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and the United Kingdom all have prime ministers as their central political leaders rather than presidents or kings/queens.

Vietnam is similar. The state president is the head of state, which according to its Constitution is “the person who leads the state, who represents the Socialist Republic of Vietnam domestically and in foreign affairs.” However, the person who leads the state administration is the prime minister, who possesses far-reaching power, as we have analyzed in the article “Vietnam: How powerful is the prime minister?”

The Constitution grants the state president a number of limited powers that do not appear lacking, but in practice, are quite lacking. These powers include promulgating the Constitution, laws, and decrees, abilities that very much resemble veto power over decrees; numerous powers that relate to proposals to the National Assembly to elect or remove individuals from the highest positions in government; and above all, power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

“Commander-in-chief”sounds enormously powerful. But the command of Vietnam’s armed forces has never laid with the state president; it actually lies with the Politburo and the Central Military Commission (CMC). In recent times, the secretary of the Central Military Committee has always been the Party general secretary, while the deputy minister of the CMC has been the minister of defense. The state president is simply a standing member of the CMC. Nguyen Phu Trong has been the only individual to hold both Party general secretary and state president positions while concurrently serving as the secretary of the CMC.  

Thus, the state president does not actually hold any guns. He doesn’t hold the purse strings either, because control of the treasury is held by the prime minister. The authority of the state president, then, lies in approving military promotions, bestowing awards and honors, and deciding on issues related to citizenship, reprieves, and diplomatic protocols, etc.

With limited powers, Vietnamese presidents after Ho Chi Minh have never fully exercised their powers on thorny issues, such as dismissing a number of high-ranking positions in the government and the military or vetoing an ordinance from the National Assembly’s Standing Committee.

Though it has transitioned from a collective leadership role (in the State Council) to an individualized one, the position of state president still represents the collective in announcing decisions and lacks the broad, active powers of the prime minister.

The real power of the state president perhaps lies in the fact that he has his feet in both the Politburo and the CMC. If it weren’t for this straddling, the state president would be merely a puppet. Thus, when examining the actual power of a Vietnamese political leader, it is not enough to look to the law; one must also look at his or her power within the Party and the individual influence he or she has.

Nguyen Xuan Phuc has bestowed the title of “captain” on many provinces and cities as his way to encourage them to develop and prosper, though perhaps these provincial and municipal leaders have yet to understand how they were called “captains.” Nguyen Xuan Phuc now has also assumed the position of head of the ship, but he is also no captain.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on April 7, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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A Few Things You Should Know About Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairpersonship

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Former National Assembly Chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, and Current Chairman, Vuong Dinh Hue. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine

Though it is one of the “four pillars” of the Vietnamese government, the National Assembly chairpersonship remains the weakest position.


Vietnam’s National Assembly has been preparing to change its window dressing in late March 2021. No need to wait until the general election wraps up in May 2021; the National Assembly chairmanship had a new occupant in the final days of March. To reaffirm that the election in May did not change Vietnam’s political situation, July 20, 2021 would mark Vuong Dinh Hue’s continuation to serve the same leadership position as the National Assembly chairman for the next 5 years when it re-elected him.

One amongst the “four pillars of the imperial court”

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Vietnamese politics slowly moved beyond the individual leadership model and the overpowering influence of Ho Chi Minh and his successor Le Duan. This, in combination with the economic reform process, led to the gradual development of a new institutional division of power. Over time, supreme power was divided among four positions: the general secretary, state president, prime minister, and chairperson of the National Assembly. 

Today, as war has receded into the distance and demands to join the international community grow, the political system functions have begun trending towards laws of the state rather than the directives of the Vietnamese Communist Party. As such, the National Assembly increasingly plays a larger and more dynamic role in the political system.

However, it wasn’t until 1992, when Nong Duc Manh was elected as National Assembly chairman, that a member of the Politburo occupied the position. Before that, Truong Chinh – a Politburo member – served as chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee from 1960 to 1981. Still, as stated above, the National Assembly did not play a large role during that time, though it’s hard to say that its role today is large either.

The National Assembly chairmen after Truong Chinh all worked their way up to become members of the Party Central Committee (such as Le Quang Dạo) or outside the Party Central Committee altogether (e.g., Nguyen Huu Tho).

All National Assembly chairmen from Nong Duc Manh onwards were members of the Politburo. Though its numbers are among the “four pillars,” the National Assembly chairmanship remains the weakest position and must abide by party decisions.

Launchpad to power

Of the five National Assembly chairmen since 1992, two have become general secretary of the VCP’s Central Committee – the highest position in the entire political system: Nong Duc Manh (2001 – 2011) and Nguyen Phu Trong (2011- present).

In stark contrast, the prime minister’s office has been unable to propel its occupant any further. One after the other, Vo Van Kiet, Phan Van Khai, and Nguyen Tan Dung became prime ministers and then retired, failing to make it to the general secretary. The exception is Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who, rather than retiring after serving as prime minister, is set to become state president; that is, he is taking one step down the ladder of party power.

Is the National Assembly chairman the “boss” of the National Assembly representatives? 

No. 

In principle, the National Assembly chairman is simply a member of the National Assembly, with all members being equal and everyone retaining one vote. No representative can force another representative to do his or her bidding. The National Assembly chairperson cannot issue any order to a representative, except for limited powers during work assignments with vice National Assembly chairpersons.

Then what does the National Assembly chairman do?

He or she mainly coordinates the activities of the National Assembly and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee, presiding over meetings and sessions and ratifying adopted constitutions, laws, resolutions, and ordinances.

For more details, please see Vietnam’s Constitution and the Law on National Assembly Organization.

The National Assembly chairman also usually acts as head of the National Electoral Council. This arrangement contains a conflict of interest when a representative (and often also a candidate) organizes elections. In democratic countries, the council must, in principle, be independent of the National Assembly.  

A position almost always reserved for men

Of the 11 National Assembly chairpersons in Vietnam’s modern history, the only woman to serve in this position was Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who held the position from 2016 to 2021. But truth be told, Ngan is the only woman to have ever served as one of the “four pillars.”

Her predicted successor, Vuong Dinh Hue, will carry on the near-exclusive tradition of men being at the helm of the National Assembly.

Hue has served as minister of finance (2011-2012), head of the Central Economic Committee (2012-2016), deputy prime minister (2016-2020), and secretary of the Hanoi party committee (2020-current). He has been a member of the Politburo since 2016.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on March 30, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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