This article was written in Vietnamese by Hong Anh and previously published in the Luat Khoa Magazine on February 26, 2021. The translation carries some revisions of the original article that we have sought the author’s consent.
On May 23, 2021, the entire population of Vietnam will vote for their National Assembly deputies and the People’s Councils at all levels. No matter who they are, no matter where they live, as long as they hold Vietnamese nationality and are over 18, the citizens will have the right to vote.
One may be thinking that she or he does not need to understand the voting procedures in Vietnam because the country just has only one political party so that elections probably don’t mean anything.
It is correct that Vietnam is an authoritarian regime, and probably many people know this as well. However, we suggest that trying to understand our system right now is still a better strategy if we want to strive for a democratic election in the future. We think it is a better option than just complying and voting unconsciously or strictly complaining and disregarding it.
It is because if we want to understand democracy, then we should try to understand the complicated yet undemocratic Vietnam’s electoral system currently is.
The following 12 milestones will explain in detail Vietnam’s electoral process.
Right around Tet (Lunar New Year), Vietnamese people probably heard from the public loudspeakers in their areas that the local governments have established their election committees. Each province, district, and commune will have its electoral committee, organizing and overseeing elections in their localities.
The Provincial Election Commission is responsible for organizing the election of the National Assembly deputies (NA deputies) and the deputies of the People’s Council (PC deputies) at the provincial level. Election committees at district and commune levels are responsible for electing members of the People’s Council at the same level.
These committees will handle candidate applications.
Self-nominated or independent candidates may be pretty disappointed to learn that there are no positions for independent members (who are not from the Vietnam Communist Party [VCP] or holding a role in the government) in these committees. The heads of these committees are usually secretaries and deputy secretaries of the Party committees in provinces and cities (see examples of members of the provincial election committee in Quang Ninh and Hung Yen).
In democratic countries, political parties often cannot know how many seats their party will definitely hold in the parliament until after the ballots get counted and announced.
In Vietnam, it is the opposite. We can know well in advance the backgrounds of those who will be structured by the VCP to have a seat in the National Assembly and the People’s Councils at all levels. Being “structured” by the VCP has the same meaning as being positioned in these seats by the Party’s selection.
The current National Assembly Standing Committee has already drafted the plan to structure the deputies into the new National Assembly. The “new” National Assembly is the one that the people will vote for on May 23, 2021.
At the same time, the current Standing Committee of the National Assembly has also instructed the provinces to build their structure of their People’s Councils at all levels in their respective provinces.
There will be 500 seats in the 15th National Assembly, including 207 deputies working at the central level of the VCP and the government. Two-hundred ninety-three (293) deputies will include those who are working at the local government level. The list can be found here for more details.
This is also the expected number of seats that the National Assembly will reserve for people who belong to the Party’s agencies, the government, the police, the army, mass organizations, and so forth. These people are called “recommended” candidates. A total of 427 (out of 500) seats are in this category. These seats are expected to be approved in the first “hiệp thương” consultation conference.
There will be seats for independent or non-communists deputies and they will be among the remaining 73 deputies. They will be nominated by the provinces and cities. However, the party, state agencies, and provincial departments may also have a share of these 73 seats.
For many people, these “hiệp thương” consultations are perhaps the strangest electoral proceedings in Vietnam. They compose a vetting and negotiating process so that the Vietnam Fatherland Front will come up with the list of the VCP’s approved candidates for the ballots.
Literally, this is the decisive activity organized by the Vietnam Fatherland Front and its other member organizations. The Vietnam Fatherland Front and its branches are considered to represent all parts of society, including NGOs and political parties as well.
These consultative conferences are held at all levels, from central to local.
The Vietnam Fatherland Front is an important body during the election in Vietnam. This agency will have to ensure that the election takes place as expected by the Party and the government, with the right structure and composition of candidates. It is also the body that is empowered to oversee all elections.
The first consultation meeting will have an agreement on the number of “recommended people” to be candidates for National Assembly deputies and People’s Councils at all levels.
By February 17, 2021, the first “hiệp thương” consultation conference was completed at the central and local levels. The localities have also announced the number of “recommended” candidates.
For example, Binh Dinh Province has decided to introduce 13 candidates to the National Assembly, including three people at the central government level to stand for candidacy and the remaining 10 people will be for the locality. However, Binh Dinh Province issued a regulation saying that the central government can only have seven elected National Assembly deputies, three representatives at the central level, and four representatives at the local level.
This means that three candidates from the central government will inevitably be elected, leaving only 10 local candidates competing with each other for the other four spots. The workplaces of these 10 people are also predetermined, including provincial leaders, departments, organizations. There is, however, no structure for self-nominated people.
After the first “hiệp thương,” it is expected that the number and composition of candidates for the National Assembly of localities will be adjusted by the National Assembly Standing Committee for the first time.
The central government, the provinces, and cities will use this adjustment as the basis to select specific people in their localities to run for the National Assembly.
For the candidates of the deputies of People’s Councils at all levels, the Standing People’s Councils may adjust the number and structure of the “recommended” candidates.
Candidates for the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels have about three weeks to apply for their candidacy.
During this time, the Party’s agencies, governmental units, unions, the military, the police, and so forth will also introduce their officials who will run in the election and hold voters’ opinion gatherings at the workplaces of those officials.
During this step, the self-nominees only submit their applications. The respective local electoral committee will consider their records to be valid or not.
This second conference will be organized in order to prepare a preliminary list of candidates for the National Assembly and representatives of the People’s Councils at all levels, including both the “recommended” and self-nominated candidates (if any).
After this second “hiệp thương” consultation, another conference will be held in the residential areas where the candidates reside so that the residents in such areas can voice their opinions about the candidates. For the self-nominated candidates, there must also be another, separate conference at their workplace to gather the opinions of the people who work in the same unit as the candidates.
During this time, one may be invited to a conference of voters to comment on candidates for the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels.
The rule does not require everyone to come to these conferences. However, these conferences can only be held if there are more than 55 voters (applied to areas that have more than 100 voters), or where at least 50 percent of the voters participate (if those areas have less than 100 voters). If the number of voters is not met, you can request to stop the conference.
For non-partisan candidates, in addition to the conference of voters where they reside, it is also necessary to organize another conference to gather voters’ opinions about them at work.
If you are a Vietnamese citizen, age 18 or older, your name will appear on the electoral roll. This list is posted at the headquarters of the commune people’s committee and the polling station. You will be given a ballot. Even those people who reside for less than 12 months in any locality will also likely be on that locality’s electoral roll.
Persons who are not allowed to vote are those whose voting right was taken by a court, death-row inmates, or people currently serving a prison sentence and not entitled to probation.
This third conference is held to finalize the list of qualified candidates for the National Assembly and People’s Council at all levels based on the results of the voter conferences.
For the “recommended” candidate for the National Assembly, this third conference must also be based on the adjustment of the National Assembly Standing Committee (the second adjustment comes right after the second “hiệp thương” consultation meeting closes).
The candidates who get a pass after the third “hiệp thương” consultation conference are the ones who will be on the ballots for which you will vote for. The list of these people will be announced no later than 25 days prior to the election date.
The National Election Council will announce the official candidate list to run for the National Assembly. Election committees at all levels will announce the official candidate list for those running for People’s Council deputies at each level.
During this time, if you are a voter, you may be invited to attend a voter conference. This is a conference where the candidates will persuade you to vote for them. Each candidate will read out his or her campaign during these conferences.
In addition to the voter-meeting conference, you may also listen to the radio, watch television, or read newspapers to get the introduction of the candidates. This is the only campaign allowed to take place close to the voter meeting.
The general election will happen on May 23, 2021, in Vietnam. This is the day when the public loudspeaker system works most actively. You may also see many people flocking to the polls. On televisions, the news will also focus on broadcasting information about the election. In some rural places where the voters have difficulty traveling, the election may take place sooner.
The Vietnamese government continuously repeats that everyone has the right to vote for our deputies of the National Assembly and the People’s Councils at the provincial, district, and commune levels. For those who cannot get to the polling booth, such as the disabled, the elderly, or people being treated at a hospital, the authorities will have a voting team that will bring the ballot box to them. Vietnam also reported that the voting turnout in Vietnam is incredibly high for the last elections, mostly 98-99% of the entire population have voted.
Yet, voting is a right, and whether to vote or not to vote is your decision.
We write this article to only explain Vietnam’s full electoral process and we must admit that it is such a complicated one, with almost absolute priority for the cadres of the Party, the government, and the state organizations.
Unfortunately, whether the people prefer this electoral process or not, it is still the only method to elect representatives in Vietnam, a country that is still very far from having democratic elections.
In Vietnam, do we really elect the persons who we wholeheartedly support, or are we just following and accepting the government’s wishes and plans? For now, it seems that the people in Vietnam can only elect the candidates that the VCP selects and approves.
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