This op-ed article was written in Vietnamese by Ly Minh and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on November 6, 2020. The translation was done by Jade NG.
Although I am a Vietnamese citizen, I anxiously watched the US presidential election in November 2020. Many of my friends in Vietnam also did the same thing. We eagerly watched every turn of that election as if we were personally voting for our own head of state.
The Vietnamese public’s interest in the US presidential election every four years can be seen through the headlines of our newspapers. The mainstream media updates many Vietnamese readers on every step of the thrilling race to the White House.
Looking eagerly at the news every day about the US presidential election, I cannot help but wonder whether or not the Vietnamese people earnestly wish to elect their own leaders.
In the political context of Vietnam, I understand that this question is a taboo. Needless to say, everyone knows that the current political regime in Vietnam does not allow the Vietnamese to exercise their voting right as in the United States.
Theoretically, the Vietnamese elect their National Assembly delegates through the National Assembly election once every five years. Then, on behalf of the Vietnamese people, the National Assembly delegates elect our national leaders.
Thus, elections in Vietnam ironically have been going on smoothly, albeit with many predictable results. Surprises rarely happen in those elections. Throughout my own monitoring of the National Assembly elections in Vietnam, I found the saying “the Party selects, the People elect” a very reasonable way to explain the development and the results of elections in Vietnam.
The secret desire of many Vietnamese people, including myself, is to have the freedom to make our decisions and to choose our state leaders, and even the National Assembly delegates who actually represent our voices when deciding the big decisions for the country.
That desire is expressed indirectly by many people through monitoring and discussing the US presidential election, as if we were voting for our own state leaders. A friend of mine lamented on Facebook: “I look at the US election and all I can feel is pain for the Vietnamese people.”
It is impossible not to feel hurt.
Governance is democratic when each vote of the citizens decides who the leaders will be. Every vote influences the final result. The thrill of the US election right up until the last minute was because those of us who watched the election’s progress could see the importance of each ballot cast by the American voters.
Because each person’s vote is so important, the presidential candidates of the US must find ways to enlist the support of their voters, to specialize their campaigns for each state, to come up with policies that please local voters to gain support for the candidates, and even to try to entice the neutral voters.
Meanwhile, looking back at the political situation in Vietnam, my country’s people have no decisive voice in deciding who will become our leaders. Therefore, in Vietnam, many people are not excited about politics and are not interested in who will become the general secretary, the president of the country, the president of the National Assembly, and the prime minister. It is simply because Vietnamese citizens do not have the right, through their votes to influence the selection of these above positions.
Those who are knowledgeable about politics in Vietnam understand that the Party decides all the leadership positions in the country. Some three or four million members of the ruling Communist Party decide for almost 100 million Vietnamese people. Party members also decide all of the major issues of the country through their secret meetings, where the press is not allowed to cover any news. And the public? The public only knows about the results which are often announced by Party officials after those meetings.
This is the reality about the Vietnamese political situation that I, a Vietnamese citizen, am forced to accept. But I personally think that many people who also accept that reality do not comprehensively support it.
Of course, I fully understand that some supporters of the current regime would argue that the Vietnamese people have the right to vote for the head of the country through the National Assembly delegates. However, I just want to ask two simple questions. First, do you remember who you voted for in a recent election? Second, do you feel happy when your delegate wins the election or sad when she or he fails?
Having an election such as in the United States is a distant dream for the Vietnamese. Nevertheless, I have only a small dream, which is that our local people can one day elect the leaders of their wards or communes, free and fair, by themselves. Hopefully, my dream will come true soon so that in the future I can proudly tell my children and grandchildren that I have elected our ward president in a past election.