Connect with us

Opinion-Section

The Real Casualty of the Loc Hung Garden Incident: the People’s Trust

Published

on

When the officials of Tan Binh District in Ho Chi Minh City gathered over one thousand police officers and other forces to bulldoze some 200 houses at Loc Hung Garden, they destroyed not only the shelters of a few hundred people but something even more important.

What also crumbled and laid buried deep in the rubble was the people’s trust in the current regime–or whatever was left of it.

“I have to tell you honestly, the trust between the people of this community and the government has totally broken down over the decades. We cannot trust them after so many broken promises. They have told us that they would meet with us and provide us with documents about the projects, the plans. We’ve received nothing. There is no trust.”

Cao Ha Truc, one of the persons representing the 124 households living in Loc Hung Garden, spoke to me over the telephone on January 9, 2019, about 12 hours after he was released from the police station and came back to a home that was no longer there.

Truc told me that he was a vegetable farmer until the local authorities engaged in what he called “shady tactics” a few years ago to stop him and others from continuing their farming.

In a video clip recorded earlier in the day, he said:

“They oppressed us by cutting off our means of survival, by letting water flood our vegetable fields, and we could not live (properly) for eight years.

We could not raise cats and dogs because they would die when the land was submerged. The meter-high water took a month to drain, but then the environment became polluted. We had to find other means of living.

We’ve lived here through three generations by farming vegetables, but now we have to flatten out the land and build the four-level houses to keep on living.”

Truc was refuting the government’s claim that the residents living in Loc Hung were constructing houses illegally when it confirmed that some 112 homes were demolished on January 8, 2019.

Loc Hung Garden is a complicated legal issue involving land rights and land possession, with the case beginning to beleaguer the Ho Chi Minh City government in the late 1990s.

The Vietnamese government has faced increasing legal headaches concerning land disputes over the years, due to rapid nationwide development.

Land Disputes Developing with and within Land Development 

Vietnam’s economy grew exponentially in the past three decades after the communist regime decided to “open up” and explore a “free market with socialist characteristics.” In big cities like Hanoi and Saigon, some investment and development projects crashed head-on with the former way of life: farming.

As Vietnam has been an agricultural society for thousands of years, the fact that there were farmers in the big cities probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, the clash between the old and new ways of life – coupled with a lack of clear legal framework – has created long-lasting social, economic, and political problems.

The Loc Hung Garden incident was not the first and definitely will not be the last of its kind.

In Vietnam currently, there are hundreds of thousands of land-lost victims who are known as “dân oan” in Vietnamese, often translated as “victims of injustice” in English.

As of January 8, 2018, some may want to add another 124 households from the Loc Hung area to this population.

At the same time, the local government has not exactly been transparent about the legal basis to support their claim to the land.

What the public knows thus far includes a still-pending development project for a public school system from K-12 on the land where Loc Hung Garden is located, and that this project was postponed numerous times during the last five years.

Before that, both the city and the district’s officials had failed to carry out the other public construction projects they previously proposed for the area.

In report No. 6035/UBND-NCPC sent to the Government Inspectorate dated October 20, 2016, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City admitted two critical matters:

1) The public school development project has yet to be executed and was still only a prospect, and

2) The land dispute with the residents at Loc Hung Garden would have continued to be classified as a “complicated and long-term petition” as the project had already started.

The report and its conclusion indicate that the government always recognized the land dispute at Loc Hung Garden was not a matter of black-and-white and that it anticipated a lengthy legal battle with the residents once the project began.

Information on the pending development project, as well as the proposal on compensation and relocation of the residents, is not made readily available to either the residents of Loc Hung or the public at-large as prescribed by law.

Was There Due Process?

The official reason given by the authorities (the People’s Committees of both the Tan Binh District and the 6th Ward) for tearing down the hundreds of homes was to enforce the order to remove illegal structures at Loc Hung Garden.

For the enforcement and removal to take place, the law in Vietnam requires the authorities to provide three critical documents with sufficient public notice to the violating individuals or entities:

  1. The report conducted by the appropriate authorities on the violation
  2. The decision to penalize the violation, and
  3. The decision to enforce

(Law on Land 2013, Law on Administrative Penalization 2012, Decision 166/2013/NĐ-CP on Enforcement of Judgment, and Decision 102/2014/NĐ-CP on Administrative Penalization Relating to Land – all links in Vietnamese).

These documents should also be served to the violating individuals and entities, giving them an opportunity to remedy the violations voluntarily.

Cao Ha Truc told me he did not receive any of the three required documents but cautioned that he could not speak for all others in the area.

The state-owned newspaper that published the story about Loc Hung also did not enclose copies of these essential documents.

When I called the office of the People’s Committee of Tan Binh District and asked for copies of the documents to be provided electronically according to law, I was turned down. The desk person stated that I would need to show up in person to make my request.

The law prescribes a specific duty to the enforcing authorities, which is to establish that the required documentation exists and that the affected people are duly notified. When the government has yet to provide them, we cannot conclude that there was due process.

Who Owns the Land in Vietnam?

Land in Vietnam “belongs to the entire people with the State acting as the owner’s representative and uniformly managing land. The State shall hand over land use rights to land users in accordance with this Law.” (Article 4, 2013 Law on Land).

I noticed the word “shall” was added in the English translation that I found online. Its addition makes a significant legal difference.

The 2013 Law on Land provides in detail a long list of specific scenarios where the Vietnamese government would hand over land rights use to the people. At the same time, it also prescribes another list of situations where the government could perform land reclamation and land requisition.

The main legal issues in the Loc Hung Garden case have always centered on the farmers’ right to possess the land and their land use rights from 1975 until now.

The government claims they acquired the land and the other 1.2 hectares nearby from the now-defunct South Vietnam’s postal services under Government Council Decision No. 111/CP dated April 14, 1977.

The residents claim that Decision No. 111/CP only covers the 1.2 hectares because the 4.8 hectares in question have been used for farming during the last 60 years in an undisrupted and undisputed manner. They also claim that the 4.8 hectares belong to the Catholic Church and the church gifted it to the farmers in 1954.

All parties involved agree on the size of the disputed land and the fact that the current government did allow residents to continue living and farming on the property undisrupted since 1975.

On January 8, 2019, the Tan Binh District’s division of the Central Propaganda Committee issued a publication, stating that the residents who had been living and farming at Loc Hung Garden would be entitled to compensation according to the policy for agriculture lands.

What would be the justification to compensate the residents if there wasn’t any legal basis for them to live there in the first place?

And more importantly, is any amount of monetary compensation enough to gain back the people’s trust in their government?

Opinion-Section

The Intertwining Of Science, Politics, And Ideology In Vietnam’s COVID-19 Crisis

Published

on

People line up to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in HCM City, June 24, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, a moment for science

The escalation of COVID-19 in Vietnam, especially in Saigon (officially known as Ho Chi Minh City), is sending millions of people into crisis. They have struggled on multiple fronts, from healthcare and making sense of varying isolation requirements to obtaining food and necessities amidst strict yet incoherent travel bans and supply shortages. 

The double target of trying to contain COVID-19 while simultaneously continuing economic activities that the government persistently defended and adhered to since the start of the pandemic has been abandoned. This is indicative of how serious the situation has become. Over the past few weeks, Saigonese have experienced life in a way they could never have imagined.

In this grim picture, Tuoi Tre Online reported on July 10, 2021, that Ho Chi Minh City’s Party Committee Secretary Nguyen Van Nen is now looking to scientists for advice.[1] The secretary’s words were quoted widely in the news: 

I feel that we need to consult the scientists…. At any time, I want specialists and scientists to see flaws in our strategy to fight the pandemic and contact me; I will consider their advice and respond timely. 

A Facebook influencer reacted to this news with a sense of irony and bitterness:[2]

So what expertise have you relied on to fight the pandemic? Anything but science? Have you been kidding your citizens all along? For one and a half years now, have you been playing with the life and death of millions of people? So, after all, is it true that the tools you have taken to fight a pandemic are simply government decrees and [the manpower of] the Communist Youth League? I feel so ashamed of being led by national leaders who are both blind and arrogant.  

It is rather apparent that in a pandemic, one had better look to the scientists. So, why is a government official only bringing them to the table now? The next question is, how critical can scientists be, with a government that does not like criticism? At the highest level, one must wonder where science and scientists are in the decision-making concerning public matters in non-democratic Vietnam? A look into the Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) ideology that it has followed and its practices could explain this conundrum.

In ideology: the suppression of civil society and communicative rationality

In the United Kingdom, at the start of the pandemic, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was activated. Since then, it has been working closely with the government as an external body to advise on making appropriate decisions regarding COVID-19 in the country. The importance and weight of scientific advice cannot be underestimated; UK scientists successfully convinced Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet to abandon their herd immunity strategy and adopt a nationwide lockdown in March 2020. 

Without this lockdown, the United Kingdom could have seen 80 percent of its people infected and 500,000 deaths.[3] On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the physician-scientist and immunologist Anthony Fauci, in his role as the chief medical advisor to the US president, has been a pillar in handling COVID-19 in the United States.

Liberal democracy entails the practice of taking advice from scientists and not restraining those who deliver honest yet uncomfortable truths to people in positions of power. The two hallmarks of liberal democracy that shape this practice are civil society and communicative rationality.[4] 

Civil society in a liberal democracy comprises actors and institutions that are supposed to be independent of the state and who act to balance state power. Therefore, universities and the myriad of civil associations in democratic countries are autonomous and can freely critique the conduct of the government or oppose laws and policies they view as problematic without fear of punishment. 

On the other hand, communicative rationality, an ideal of liberal democracy, means that people arrive at a collective agreement about something via genuine, intelligible conversations. Thus parliamentary debate and rebuttal in classroom discussions are part and parcel of a healthy democratic life and politics.  

Nowhere in the ideological textbook of the VCP can one find any sign of friendliness towards the idea of an autonomous, independent civil society, nor communicative rationality in the way the state relates to other estates in society. The Vietnamese government condemns independent civil society as a strategy of ‘hostile forces’ to undermine political stability.[5] Following the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the Communist leaders control civil society and use civil society organizations, such as the press, schools, and mass associations, to garner consent from the people for its rule.[6] Likewise, the Party believes in ‘self-criticism,’ rather than opposition or open, genuine debate in the National Assembly or in other venues where the state and citizens can talk to each other.[7]

In practice: the strategic mobilization of scientists while confining them within governable spaces

Since 1975, the Vietnamese State could be described as developmental. In the pursuit of economic growth and technological and social development, the state needs the expertise of scientists and intellectuals. This is evidenced by the existence of a wide range of research and scientific centers and institutions funded by the State that operate within the scope prescribed for them by the government. However, the system ensures that scientists and intellectuals employed in these research centres do not threaten the state.[8]

Despite these state-employed scientists and intellectuals, the Vietnamese government rarely describes its style of governance as “evidence/science-based.” This suggests that the VCP still aspires to be a good disciple of Marxism-Leninism when it comes to organizing the political system and governance. “The Party knows best” is apparently its motto. In other words, the Party sees itself as the supreme source of authority and expertise. This also makes Vietnam’s developmentalism different from, for example, Japan’s.  Japan’s developmentalism is based on rationality, whereas Vietnam’s is based on ideology.[9]

Speaking of rationality, communicative rationality still has no place in Vietnam’s politics nor in the civil sphere. The National Assembly has shown little sign of becoming a place for open, genuine debate about public matters. Critical thinking is still lacking in the way students are educated. The free press is still a wild dream for Vietnam. 

I interviewed the head of Luat Khoa Tap Chi not long ago. He described the prominent culture in Vietnam as a “culture of obedience and singular thinking” rather than critical thinking and genuine, intelligible debate. Last but not least, we shall not forget that in 2007, when the Institute of Development Studies was established by renowned intellectuals and scientists of the country to speak truth to power, it went into so much trouble with the government and was eventually disbanded.[10] 

Prospects of the VCP democratizing itself?

Not so much. In Saigon, what the Party Committee Secretary Nguyen Van Nen said about consulting scientists is most likely just a moment of him forgetting the Party’s line he should be toeing. Indeed, just a week after his statement, a Facebook influencer reposted on his Facebook page a VNExpress interview with Vu Thanh Tu Anh of Fulbright University Vietnam, which reportedly was removed from VNExpress’s website immediately after it was posted.[11] In this interview, Tu Anh discusses some failures in the government’s strategy to contain COVID-19.[12]

In conclusion, for scientists to speak truth to power, or at least to save Vietnam from this deadly pandemic, they require a change in both ideology and politics, which the VCP seems to be neither willing nor ready to take.  

Bibliography:

  1. Bí thư Thành ủy TP.HCM gặp gỡ các chuyên gia, nhà khoa học cùng bàn cách chống dịch COVID-19, 10 July 2021. Tuổi Trẻ Online. Available at: https://tuoitre.vn/bi-thu-thanh-uy-tp-hcm-gap-go-cac-chuyen-gia-nha-khoa-hoc-cung-ban-cach-chong-dich-covid-19-20210710120636333.htm
  2. Thai Hao’s Facebook page, 10 July 2021. The full post is available at: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1029231357886052&id=100023975920044
  3. Grey, Stephen & MacAskill, Andrew, 7 April 2020. Special Report: Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm. Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-path-speci-idUSKBN21P1VF
  4. The background of my understanding of liberal democracy in this paragraph comes from Alexis de Tocqueville (on civil society) and Jurgen Habermas (on communicative rationality).
  5. See, for example, an article in Cong an Nhan dan, available at: http://cand.com.vn/Chong-dien-bien-hoa-binh/Canh-giac-thu-doan-loi-dung-xa-hoi-dan-su-de-chong-pha-che-do-581991/; another one in Nhan dan, available at: https://nhandan.vn/tin-tuc-su-kien/xa-hoi-dan-su-mot-thu-doan-cua-dien-bien-hoa-binh-392081/
  6. The reality of ‘state-led civil society’ in Vietnam, most prominent before the late 1980s, is discussed widely in the academic literature. For example, I suggest Landau, I. (2008). Law and civil society in Cambodia and Vietnam: A Gramscian perspective. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38(2), 244–258; and Salemink, O. (2006). Translating, interpreting, and practicing civil society in Vietnam: A tale of calculated misunderstanding. In D. Lewis & D. Mosse (Eds.), Development Brokers and Translators: The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies (pp. 101–126). Kumarian Press.
  7. See, for example, a discussion session organized by a mass organization, in Tortosa, A. (2012). Grassroots democracy in rural Vietnam: A Gramscian analysis. Socialism and Democracy, 26(1), 103–126. https://doi.org/10.1080/08854300.2011.645661
  8. See Morris-Jung, J. (2017). Reflections on governable spaces of activism and expertise in Vietnam. Critical Asian Studies, 49(3), 441–443. https://doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2017.1339448
  9.  For more on developmentalism and plan-rationality versus plan-ideology, see Johnson, C. (1993). The Japanese miracle. In MITI and the Japanese miracle: The growth of industrial policy, 1925-1975 (pp. 1–34). Stanford University Press; and Woo-Cumings, M. (Ed.). (1999). Introduction: Chalmers Johnson and the politics of nationalism and development. In The developmental state (pp. 1–31). Cornell University Press.
  10. Morris-Jung, J. (2015). The Vietnamese bauxite controversy: Towards a more oppositional politics. Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 10(1), 63–109.
  11. Thanh Nguyen’s Facebook post, 17 July 2021. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/paulothanhnguyen/posts/4395856270458582
  12. On 20 July 2021, another scientist, Vu Hong Nguyen, also shared on his Facebook page that his contribution to a TV program in Vietnam about COVID-19 vaccines was abruptly removed. He explains that his skeptical view of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, which he planned to talk about in the TV program, was not welcome. He titles this post on his Facebook page as ‘Do not let politics interfere with science’. Nguyen’s Facebook post is available at: https://www.facebook.com/vu.nguyen.758/posts/4726456800701987  

Continue Reading

Opinion-Section

Vietnam’s Unprecedented COVID-19 Challenge Compounded By A Deficit Of Trust In The Government

Published

on

A locked down area in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo: Zing News. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Vietnamese people are no strangers to natural disasters or political calamities that demand personal sacrifice and collective effort. Yet, why is the government’s‘COVID-19 Vaccine Fund’ being met with so much public backlash? A closer look into these criticisms reveals a deficit of trust in the government, in more ways than one, with nobody taking the initiative to deal with this problem.     


June 2021 saw Vietnam facing a massive COVID-19 outbreak, especially in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). By the end of the month, the number of cases remained relatively high. The implications of the government’s difficulty in containing COVID-19 in Saigon are considerable. 

First, it is the largest city in Vietnam and the economic flagship of the country. Thus, placing the entire city of Saigon under lockdown is arguably not an option the government would want to entertain. This is evidenced by government officials still stubbornly clinging to their “double target” goal [1] of attempting to suppress COVID-19 while at the same time maintaining economic activities. Time will tell if Vietnam will pull through or if this “double target” will turn into a “double failure.” 

Second, the bitter history between Saigon, South Vietnam’s former capital during Vietnam War, and the Communists from Hanoi often resurfaces at times like this. This has cultivated a persistent lack of trust between many Saigonese and government leaders in Hanoi. Thus, it is not surprising to see many angry comparisons by Saigonese. They speak of the government’s unfair treatment of Saigon, as they perceive that less support has been given to the city to cope with the outbreak than was the case with northern provinces. When economic and political concerns are put together, they believe that Saigon is merely seen by the government as a cash cow – heavily milked yet poorly treated by Hanoi leaders.

However, this troubled past between the north and south regions is far from being the only reason for the lack of trust between the state and the people in Vietnam. With the unprecedented high number of daily cases and deaths, the Vietnamese finally realize the urgency of acquiring vaccines. Yet, the government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Fund, which calls for voluntary donations from individual citizens and the corporate sector to buy vaccines from overseas, has been met with strong criticism. 

As expressed on social media, these objections seem to boil down to “I can’t trust the government with my money” or “I don’t trust the government to act in my best interest.” This lack of faith in the state is situated against a backdrop of multiple corruption scandals and a lack of transparency throughout the 2010s and taxpayers’ increasing scrutiny of public spending in recent years, which has resulted in their frustration. 

To wit, the government announced in late June its plans to build more public statues, with the one in Thanh Hoa province alone costing approximately 255 billion dong (US$11 million).[2] The government could not have chosen a better time, or a better way, to add fuel to the fire.[3]

In a country where anti-China sentiment runs high, the government’s approval of the Sinopharm vaccine and putting it into use only worsens the situation.[4] Skeptics of the VCP and China have every reason to be worried about the money in the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund being used to purchase only the Sinopharm vaccine.

With this perfect opportunity for public intellectuals to speak truth to power, economists Vu Thanh Tu Anh (from the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management) and Vu Tu Thanh (deputy regional managing director and Vietnam representative for the US-ASEAN Business Council), regrettably miss the point. Tu Anh’s Facebook post on June 8 rightly explained that the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund is a way to correct “government failure.” [5]

However, he mainly focused on the technical workings of the government’s budgeting related to COVID-19. Likewise, Tu Thanh’s post on his own Facebook page, posted on the same day, defends the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund, stating that no vaccine manufacturer in the world can sell its vaccines to non-state actors at the moment and that the government is still responsible for the lion’s share of the amount used to purchase them.[6] 

Mistaking politics for policy, both Tu Anh and Tu Thanh fail to address the issues underlying the criticisms of the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund, which are the deficit of trust between Saigon and the north, the lack of confidence of the Vietnamese people towards their government, the bitter irony of billions of Vietnamese dong going to statue-building amidst a pandemic, and concerns about China’s vaccine. They also miss how the government should be held accountable for the “failure” Tu Anh mentioned, a failure of the government’s own making. While these issues are not dealt with, the deficit of trust remains and could worsen over time.

June 2021 has seen Saigon’s neighbourhoods barricaded, one after another, as more and more new cases emerged. A local man poetically, but sadly, called the city, “Thương thành” (City of Pain).[7] Meanwhile, other cities and provinces are nervously watching. The shortage of vaccines alone is challenging to deal with. Yet this summer sees the Vietnamese government running short of both vaccines and the trust of many of its people.  

Bibliography:

[1] T.H. (2021, June 3). Sáng tạo trong thực hiện “‘nhiệm vụ kép.’” Hanoi Moi. https://hanoimoi.com.vn/tin-tuc/Doanh-nghiep/1001503/sang-tao-trong-thuc-hien-nhiem-vu-kep

[2] L.H. (2021a, June 25). Thanh Hóa chọn mẫu xây tượng đài, khu lưu niệm 255 tỷ đồng. VNExpress. https://vnexpress.net/thanh-hoa-chon-mau-xay-tuong-dai-khu-luu-niem-255-ty-dong-4299756.html

[3] Facebook user’s criticism of the government’s handling of COVID-19 in Saigon, including its spending on building statues amidst. (2021, June 25). [Status]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/manhcuongvu/posts/10208783322656000

[4] Facebook user’s criticism of the Ministry of Health’s approval of the Sinopharm vaccine. (2021, June 4). [Status]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=4596848240329511&set=a.121001917914188

[5] Có nên lập quỹ vaccine phòng covid-19. (2021, June 7). [Status]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=5787526994651583&id=100001830205620

[6] Hiểu đúng về Quỹ vắc xin phòng chống COVID-19. (2021, June 8). [Status]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/vututhanh/posts/10222662130960010

[7] Thương Thành (2021, June 13). [Status]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/le.h.lam/posts/10220397389070232

Continue Reading

Opinion-Section

The Power Of Your Ballot

Published

on

As election day approaches for seats in the Vietnamese National Assembly, it is important to take a step back and reflect on the significance of this political exercise as a whole and on our role as voters. 

It is common knowledge that several aspects of this entire electoral process are suspicious or perhaps even fraudulent. As such, a large portion of the Vietnamese population may choose not to vote at all, even though they seem to care greatly about the politics and elections of other foreign nations. At first glance, their actions are logical and make total sense. 

Why should Vietnamese citizens continue to take part in a rigged electoral system where their votes will not matter in the end? Why should they take time off from their day and exert effort to indulge in the whims of a government that hardly even cares about the well-being of its people? After all, non-participation is a form of civil disobedience in itself, and in most cases, it is effective and it works.

Yet, in the context of Vietnam, perhaps another way to express discontent might be more effective in bringing about lasting social and political change.

A History of Fraud and Deception

The Vietnamese government has constantly alleged a remarkable voter turnout since the 2002 election for the National Assembly, according to the IFES Election Guide. To be specific, Vietnam tallied 98.85 percent in 2002, 99.52 percent in 2011, and 99.35 percent in 2016. It is also expected that government claims for the turnout for the upcoming election will remain in a similar range. 

Yet, according to some experts, election results in Vietnam come as no surprise as these tallies could be mere fabrications, highly exaggerated, and may not accurately reflect reality. To support their opinions, these experts – such as Mu Sochua, a board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and a former Cambodian Member of Parliament – state that the VCP will enlarge these numbers by relying on proxy voting – wherein one person can vote for his/her entire family – and pressuring local authorities to ensure high voter turnouts in their regions. 

Contrived voter statistics is not the only thing the Vietnamese government is guilty of; its claim of free and fair elections is also deceptive. Candidates for the National Assembly are closely scrutinized and vetted by the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, an arm of the VCP. In the upcoming elections, out of 868 candidates vying for 500 seats, only nine are self-nominated, with six of these also reported to be members of the VCP as well. From this, we can see that pluralism and choice are all but non-existent. 

Prior elections also illustrate this phenomenon and the distinct lack of choice. A report by Freedom House states that out of the 500 seats available for the National Assembly in 2016, 473 were taken by Vietnamese Community Party members while “independent” candidates, who were also vetted by the VCP, took 21. 

Independent candidates and those who are not part of the Communist Party also face an uphill battle in their bid to be candidates in the elections. While most don’t even pass the Vietnamese Fatherland Front’s scrutiny, some are imprisoned or pressured into rescinding their intention to run. 

The arrests of Le Trong Hung, Nguyen Quang Tuan, and Tran Quoc Khanh, as reported by Amnesty International, stand as recent examples.

Le Trong Hung was a citizen journalist who worked for Chan Hung TV and Nguyen Quang Tuan was a medical doctor. Tran Quoc Khanh ran a popular social media account, which he used to comment on social issues and to criticize the Vietnamese government. All three were independent candidates running for seats in the National Assembly in the upcoming election. However, they were arrested for allegedly violating Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code, a statute which Amnesty International claims in the report, “ …violates Viet Nam’s international human rights obligations” and that Article 117 “should be repealed or substantially amended…”

To top all of this, the result of the National Assembly elections is more or less carved-in-stone and predetermined months in advance. This can be seen in the “tentative proportion” or “tentative allocation” data released by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee. The committee has portioned the number of available seats and through this, we can get a fairly clear picture of who will get “elected” and what the priorities of the National Assembly will be over the next five years. 

To Vote or Not to Vote 

Hence, we are faced with a conundrum.

Given the state of elections in Vietnam with all the deceit, manipulation, and unfairness involved, would it be proper and appropriate to still vote come election day, or would non-participation in the system itself be the better alternative?

The usual reaction, when faced with such a situation, would, of course, be the road of passivity and non-compliance. Ergo, to choose not to participate in the elections at all. 

This perspective is all well and good. After all, a lack of voters usually implies a government’s lack of legitimacy and the absence of its citizens’ trust. However, legitimacy does not seem to be the VCP’s concern and they would be more than happy to pad the actual number of voters through the use of various statistical anomalies. 

On the other hand, choosing to vote seems to be a fruitless and purposeless course of action when the result is more or less predetermined several months in advance. 

At the end of the day, it appears that no matter what we decide to do with regards to the elections, the Vietnamese government and the Communist Party emerge as the true victors.

Rays of Hope 

And yet, you have someone like Luong The Huy, an openly homosexual man, civil society activist, and gender expert, who is one of the few self-nominated candidates who somehow managed to slip through the Vietnamese Fatherland Front’s obscure vetting process. 

On election day, May 23, he and a few other candidates will take on a seemingly hopeless fight for a slim chance at winning a single seat in the National Assembly. The odds and the deck are stacked against them, but they still continue to push back; they refuse to remain silent in passive acceptance. 

And while most of us cannot run for any government position, choosing to vote is the next best thing; even though it feels like an exercise in futility, we should still force ourselves to vote come election day. 

Even though our choice may not matter, our mere participation in the simplest of democratic freedoms given to us shows the VCP that we are concerned and invested in the direction the country is moving towards. Even if the election is rigged from the start, the mere act of supporting a candidate that does not agree with the Party’s schemes shows the Party that we will not take kindly to the government’s machinations and ploys. Even the act of submitting a blank ballot carries much more weight than simply not voting at all. 

The VCP thrives on the growing apathy and passivity of its people and could care less about legitimacy. Hence, choosing to vote and then deciding to vote properly becomes an act of rebellion; it becomes revolutionary in that it respects the concept and sanctity of the democratic process itself rather than the Vietnamese government as an institution. And if enough people unite and vote for those actually deserving of a seat in the National Assembly, there is a minuscule chance that perhaps true and lasting change and reform can slowly come from within. 

The strength of your ballot lasts beyond election day and extends far into the uncertain future. And when your time comes to make a decision, we hope you make the right choice.

Continue Reading

Trending