Vietnam Briefing: The Election Is Over. But The Fate Of Party Critics Is Still Grim.

Son Nguyen
Son Nguyen

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, is a look at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.


The 2021 National Assembly election is over. Rumors are spreading.

It is reported that almost 70 million people were expected to cast their ballots yesterday, Sunday, May 23. The election witnessed the nominations of 866 candidates, with 500 seats up for grabs in the parliament.

The number of non-party candidates this year is lower than the last election in 2016, falling from 97 to only 74 candidates. Recently, the National Assembly includes just around 8 percent of independent members, while Party members account for 92 percent of the parliamentary seats.

How does the National Assembly election work in Vietnam? Is it democratic? Could non-party members run for election? These questions are answered by The Vietnamese’s recently published articles: “The Odds Against Your Favor: How Does The National Assembly Election In Vietnam Work?” and “An Authoritarian Nightmare: The Self-Nomination Movement In 2016.”

Surprise at the last minute: Published articles about independent candidate Luong The Huy on state media have disappeared since Saturday evening, as reported by BBC News Vietnamese service.

Rumors are spreading on social media. This was expected. It happens as usual.

  • Some voters went on Facebook to report that they saw some voters holding several ballots in hand and election officers did nothing, suspectedly committing electoral fraud. This is probably the most common rumor about elections in Vietnam for decades now.
  • Some other voters said there were election officers instructing them who to vote for.
  • Those who had a chance to witness vote counting in previous elections said there was very suspicious and unexplainable conduct behind closed doors that didn’t follow official guidelines, such as the transfer of invalid ballots into valid boxes.
  • As the media in Vietnam is controlled by the government, there has been no known investigation by journalists to verify these rumors with concrete evidence. The existence of rumors in Vietnam’s politics, and how many ordinary people believe in them, say a lot about how intransparent the system is.

Activist Pham Doan Trang recognized as an honorary member of German writer-activist organization

Last Wednesday, the German branch of Poets, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN) recognized activist and prisoner of conscience Pham Doan Trang as an honorary member. PEN is an international organization aimed at defending “persecuted and suppressed writers” as well as advocating for freedom of speech.

Using its announcement in German, PEN advocated for Trang’s immediate and unconditional release and condemned the Vietnamese authority’s brutal treatment of her. PEN also recognized Trang’s work as a co-founder and editor for The Vietnamese and Luat Khoa Magazine, as well as her human rights report on the Dong Tam land dispute, co-authored with activist Will Nguyen.

Trang is a co-founder of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV), which publishes The Vietnamese and Luat Khoa. She is the author of many books focused  on educating the Vietnamese people about politics, such as “Politics for the Common People” and “Nonviolent Resistance.” In 2019, Trang was awarded the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders.

In 2020, Trang was imprisoned by the Vietnamese authorities and charged with “conducting propaganda” against the state. Up until now, after more than seven months in prison, she is still being held incommunicado. Her family and her lawyer have not been allowed to meet with her.


Independent journalists face persecution

The investigation of the Báo Sạch (Clean Newspaper) case has been finalized with Can Tho Police formally recommending the city’s People’s Procuracy to prosecute four journalists of the group: Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Thanh Nha.

They now face up to seven years in prison, on the charge of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code.

The investigative agency said it would continue to investigate other suspected activities of the group. They did not rule out the possibility of filing new charges against the group’s members under Article 337 of the Penal Code, which is “deliberate disclosure of classified information; appropriation, trading, destruction of classified documents.”


COVID-19 in Vietnam: Panic, panic, and panic.

Panic took over Vietnam as the country witnessed new surges of COVID-19 cases. Even though the number of cases in Vietnam has been low compared to other countries, only around 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated. The Vietnamese government has promised to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines for free, but those who have gotten the shot so far are mostly front-line workers, diplomats, and military officers.

At the moment, only AstraZeneca is available in Vietnam.

The desperation for COVID-19 vaccines has manifested itself in the form of tourism. According to Tuoi Tre News, a travel company in Ho Chi Minh City recently launched a new “vaccination tour” for their customers. This “tour” would take customers to the United States to get vaccinated with one of the three options: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Pricing starts at almost $2,000. The travel package is said to target “business people, high-income earners, and white-collar workers.”

The government has said it will buy and deliver 31 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this year. Vietnam currently has three domestically produced vaccines, but none of them have been approved. Although Vietnam is producing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the country has not considered Chinese vaccines. Public opinion in Vietnam, filled with anti-China sentiment, has shown much distrust of China’s vaccine diplomacy.


Vietnam’s stance on the Israel-Palstinian conflict

Despite the VCP’s historical connection to Palestine as fellow anti-imperialist revolutionaries, the country has taken a moderate stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While state-controlled media outlets dramatically state that Vietnam condemns violence in the conflict, the country actually has not taken a side in the conflict, only condemning general “attacks targeting civilians.” Dang Dinh Quy, Vietnam’s ambassador to the United Nations, only suggested that “both sides, especially Israel” should “respect international humanitarian law.”

Why doesn’t Vietnam side with Palestine? Even though siding with Palestine would provide a chance for the VCP to demonstrate its commitment to anti-imperialist ideology, which is ideal for communist propaganda, Vietnam’s long-standing defense policy prohibits it from “siding with one country against another.” Although the defense policy does have some room for flexible consideration on a case-by-case basis, it seems that playing the ideological game is not Vietnam’s priority anymore.


Learn more about Vietnam:

Vietnam’s National Assembly Vote: A Futile Gesture

The Diplomat/Mu Sochua/May 19, 2021

“As in previous elections, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), which runs one of the few remaining single-party states in the world, is expected to dominate the polls and extend its rule for the next five years. Voter turnout on polling day is also expected to be high, if previous elections are anything to go by, despite an intensified crackdown on human rights over the last few years.”

Vietnam may not want China’s Covid-19 vaccines, but how long can it stay immune to them?

South China Morning Post/Dien Nguyen An Luong/May 20, 2021

“Leaving China-developed jabs off the table altogether risks derailing efforts to expedite a much-needed vaccination drive, which could dent extraordinarily high public approval ratings of the government’s handling of the pandemic. But a nod to Chinese shots is likely to force the authorities to grapple with an even more daunting challenge: how to talk an increasingly anti-China audience at home into taking them.”

Full steam ahead on Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign

East Asia Forum/Hai Hong Nguyen, UQ/May 20, 2021

“Public attention is being drawn to how Trong and the new 18-member Politburo will decide on the fate of the ‘three big fish’ and former members of the Politburo: former party boss of Hanoi Hoang Trung Hai, former party boss of Ho Chi Minh City Le Thanh Hai and former governor of the State Bank of Vietnam Nguyen Van Binh. All three men were disciplined last year.”

Do China and Vietnam Have Similar Alliance Policies?

The Diplomat/Khang Vu/May 18, 2021

“Similar to China, Vietnam also has a formal alliance commitment to Laos that survived the end of the Cold War. Vietnam is famous for its “Three Nos” defense policy – no military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on any country to combat others – but its alliance with Laos is the exception to its alliance policies the same way North Korea is to China. Scholars often consider the Sino-Korean alliance to be a deviant case that goes beyond the scope of existing alliance theories. However, the existence of another deviant Vietnam-Laos case implies that there is a pattern that is worth further research, especially so when Vietnam and China are communist countries that once fought a common U.S. enemy. Deviant cases are significant in the sense that they can be the exceptions that prove the rule. Ignoring them can risk selecting on the dependent variable, which could lead to biased results in studies of Chinese and Vietnamese alliance policies.”

China and the US: Who Has More Influence in Vietnam?

The Diplomat/Mengzhen Xia and Dingding Chen/May 21, 2021

“As soon as the Biden administration came into power in the United States, Washington decided to strengthen its Indo-Pacific strategy, intending to highlight its presence in Asia and to deter the rise of China. Vietnam, fresh off a year of serving as the ASEAN chair and currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council through 2021, is becoming increasingly important in this effort. Washington seeks to upgrade U.S.-Vietnam ties and deepen their “comprehensive partnership” with an eye toward balancing and confining China. Both China and the United States are competing to exert a positive – and bigger – influence on Vietnam through various economic and political policies, such as the Belt and Road Initiative from China and maritime security cooperation from the United States.”


Events to watch this week:

Seminar: Responsiveness in the Shadow of Repression: Vietnam and China Compared

Date: May 27
Organizer: Southeast Asia Program, Stanford University

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