The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.
The first openly gay candidate lost the People’s Committee election
Luong The Huy, the first openly gay candidate, and a non-Party member self-nominee lost his election bid to the People’s Committee of Hanoi. In the list of elected candidates published last week, Luong The Huy was not among the 95 elected representatives for Hanoi’s People’s Committee.
In Vietnam, there are two elections: the People’s Committee election and the National Assembly election. Each province has its own People’s Committees at the provincial, district, and commune levels, while the National Assembly represents the central government’s legislative body. Luong The Huy ran for both the National Assembly and Hanoi’s People’s Committee.
Both elections follow the bloc voting system, in which a province is divided into different voting blocs based on the province’s districts. Each voting bloc typically elects 3-4 representatives to the People’s Committee from the competition pool of around 5-6 candidates.
For his People’s Committee election, Huy was placed in voting bloc number 04 in the Hai Ba Trung District. The people who got elected over Huy are all Party members with a prior history of either serving the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) or the People’s Committee of Hanoi. The list includes Nguyen Van Nam, the secretariat of the VCP in Hai Ba Trung District, Ho Van Nga, ex-representative on the Committee, and Duong Duc Tuan, ex-vice chairman of the Committee.
All of these elected candidates are around 51-56 years old. For comparison, Huy is 32 years old.
These elected candidates are going to serve on the People’s Committee of Hanoi for the next 5 years.
What’s next? The National Assembly election has not released its results. However, it is very unlikely that he will be elected for the National Assembly.
Why? Elections in Vietnam have always been rigged against self-nominated, non-Party candidates through various means. The number of self-nominated representatives in the National Assembly has never exceeded 15 percent. In the 2016 election, only two self-nominated candidates got elected – and both of them were Party members.
Huy’s district was allocated three seats. Among the 5 candidates, apart from Huy, the others included the chairperson of one of the largest state-owned banks, a high-ranking legislator, a government minister, and a deputy principal of a local school. It’s not difficult to anticipate who the winners will be.
Who is Luong The Huy? Luong The Huy is the first openly gay candidate to run for the National Assembly and the People’s Committee of Hanoi. He is a self-nominated, independent candidate, meaning any VCP institutions did not nominate him and had no VCP membership. Huy is a Fulbright Scholar who studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for his Masters of Law (LLM) specialization in sexuality. He is currently directing the Institute of Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), a non-profit organization aiming to promote minority rights in Vietnam.
As normal, there were many reports and accusations of vote tampering and online smear campaigns directed at independent, self-nominated candidates like Huy. For example, anecdotes of how high schools in Ha Dong District, where Huy’s voting bloc was placed for the National Assembly election, forced students to share false information about him on Facebook, claiming that he committed tax evasion that he was an anti-state foreign-sponsored reactionary. The students were rewarded with higher grades. In another example, voters in his voting bloc said that people at the voting locations instructed them to specifically not vote for him.
However, as the state controls the official media channels in the country, there is no way to investigate or prove these claims. The state-controlled media has also been very quiet on these accusations.
On the day of the election, many state-controlled online media channels deleted their posts on Luong The Huy.
More propaganda is coming
Last week, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc met and discussed with the Communist Review (Tạp Chí Cộng Sản) to create a forum discussing the VCP’s “important theoretical issues.” In this meeting, the president affirmed that Vietnam’s path to socialism has “become increasingly clear” over the past 35 years since the launch of Doi Moi, a political and economic reform program and that “theoretical issues” (read: propaganda) should be explained and widely spread to serve this path to socialism.
This seems to imply that the Communist Review is going to be more active and aggressive in defending the Party as well as spreading propaganda.
In this meeting, Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that the goal of the socialist state of Vietnam is to establish rule of law, democracy and a “socialist-oriented market economy.”
Though these terms are ambiguous, we could understand that the VCP’s visions of “rule of law” or “democracy” are drastically different from how these words are used in non-authoritarian countries. Over the years, the VCP has consistently pushed the theoretical argument that the “rule of law” in Vietnam is essentially the rule of the Party, and “democracy” here just means the existence of elections, even if such elections always result in the overwhelming majority of VCP members in the government.
What is the Communist Review? The Communist Review is a century-old mouthpiece of the VCP. Its main function is to create theoretical arguments to defend the Party’s policies. Even though it is named “Communist,” the Review does not support any communist theories or arguments that contradict the Party’s leadership and legitimacy. In hindsight, the Review is not a communist intellectual journal or a think tank that aids the Party in creating policies, but rather a propaganda mouthpiece that defends the Party’s decisions.
A busy week with COVID-19 in Vietnam
Last week was another week of panic for people in Vietnam, with approximately 100 new COVID-19 cases every day. So far, there have been more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19 infections recorded in Vietnam, with 47 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. While this number seems to be modest compared to other countries, it is worth noting that only around 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated – mostly front line workers, diplomats, as well as police and military officers; and only around 28,000 people have been fully vaccinated with a second dose, accounting for just around 0.03 percent of the almost 100-million people population.
Vietnam’s percentage of vaccinated people based on population is among the lowest in Southeast Asia.
What COVID-19 vaccines are not widely available in Vietnam? At the moment, only AstraZeneca is available in the country. Vietnam has been negotiating with Moderna to produce the vaccines in the country and is said to be getting 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this year. It is producing the Russian vaccine Sputnik V in the country, though it has not considered the Chinese vaccines. Vietnam also has three types of vaccines developed domestically, but none of them have been approved yet.
How strict is the entrance into the country? The Vietnamese government not only has extremely strict entrance requirements, but it even recently tightened the law surrounding entry to the country. Currently, everyone, whether having been vaccinated or not, is required to undergo 21 days of quarantine in a government-mandated location, instead of 14 days like before.
Last week, the American Chamber of Commerce requested the Vietnamese government to reduce the number of quarantine days to seven days to allow more foreigners to enter the country. The government is considering the proposal, but so far, the entrance restrictions remain tight for everyone, Vietnamese citizens or not.
Vietnam finds a new virus variant: “Vietnam has discovered a new coronavirus variant that’s a hybrid of strains first found in India and the U.K., the Vietnamese health minister said Saturday,” according to AP/VOA News.
Learn more about Vietnam
Cybersecurity in Vietnam: has anything changed?
Loxology/ Le Ton Viet (Russin & Vecchi Vietnam)/ May 28, 2021
“Since adoption of the Law on Cybersecurity in 2018, there has been an ongoing conversation opposing the strict regulatory environment that the Law creates. Strict enforcement, it is said, would disrupt the continuous flow of data so important to commercial development. While this conversation has gone on, the Vietnamese Government has not taken any real steps to provide clarification or to enforce the Law. Businesses continue to operate in the shadow of the Law, while awaiting further guidance. But lack of clarity is not new in Vietnam and often serves the Government’s purpose of hands-off control.”
The Gulf between Chinese and Vietnamese alliance policies
The Diplomat/ Ngo Di Lan/ May 27, 2021
“…no matter how we define military alliance, for as long as Vietnamese national power has not caught up to China’s, China and Vietnam will continue to have significantly different alliance policies.”
New research: “Vietnam’s tentative approach to regional infrastructure initiatives” by Do Mai Lan and Hoang Oanh
ISEAS/ May 27, 2021
- Vietnam’s Socio-Economic Development Plan 2021-2030 highlights infrastructure development as one of the three strategic breakthroughs.
- However, financing for infrastructure development remains constrained. State resources fund approximately 90 percent of the country’s infrastructure projects, and mobilising private capital has proven difficult.
- There are currently many foreign-financed connectivity initiatives in the region, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, and projects supported by America’s International Development Finance Corporation.
- While competition among these initiatives provides Vietnam and regional countries with more funding options, they also come with challenges. Vietnam, therefore, has approached them with some reservations.
- Moving forward, it is crucial for Vietnam to adopt stringent standards in approving new projects, improve the legal environment to attract private infrastructure investment, develop better national infrastructure master plans, diversify infrastructure investment sources, and refrain from taking sides in pursuing international infrastructure development cooperation.