The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.
The 2021 National Assembly Election Results Are Here
Last week, the election results for the 15th National Assembly were finally released. The list includes 499 elected officials to the legislative assembly out of a list of 866 nominees in the competition pool. The members of this National Assembly will serve five-year terms until 2026.
There are supposed to be 500 seats, but one elected candidate was reportedly disqualified due to health issues.
A performative election? The highlight of the election was the election of “star candidates” – the well-known, high-ranking candidates of the Party who hold the most critical leadership positions in the Politburo.
Notably, the “four pillars” of the Politburo have an extremely high number of votes, ranging from around 93 to almost 100 percent. The “four pillars” include President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Parath Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong, and the Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue.
Other Politburo members also have a very high number of votes of at least 90 percent, with only one exception of about 75 percent.
This was expected because elections in Vietnam are not democratic but rather a chance for the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) to demonstrate that its most important members are famously beloved by the people.
As expected, the election resulted in Party domination: Out of the 499 elected officials, only four were self-nominated candidates.
The list includes Hoang Van Cuong, vice-president of the public National Economics University; Nguyen Anh Tri, president of the state-controlled National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion; Truong Trong Nghia, deputy chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, and Khuong Thi Mai, managing director of Namsung Aluminum Co., Ltd., a company established in 2014 with full funding from the state.
All of the self-nominated candidates elected are members of the VCP. This is not surprising, considering the 2016 National Assembly election, in which only two self-nominated candidates were elected, both also Party members. The self-nominated candidates in this year’s election accounted for less than 1 percent of the entire legislative assembly.
Originally, there were 75 self-nominated candidates, but only nine candidates made it to the final ballot after a rigorous process of elimination, which is known for filtering out dissidents.
Additionally, it is reported that there are 14 non-party nominees who were elected. However, these non-party candidates were nominated by VCP organizations, making them still tied to the Party. The number of non-party officials only account for 2.8 percent of the whole Assembly.
According to the state-controlled Vietnam News Agency, the election had a turnout rate of 99.6 percent. The turnout rate in Vietnam has always been extremely high, and has always been used by the regime to argue that elections are democratic and representative of the people’s will.
The state also reports that 30 percent of the new National Assembly are women, and around 17 percent are people of ethnic minorities. While this was supposed to illustrate how progressive and representative the new National Assembly is, this is mostly just performative. Since these officials are still tied to the Party one way or another, their independent decision-making power is extremely limited.
Only less than 10 percent of the new members are people under the age of 40.
Unfortunate, but not surprising: Luong The Huy, the first openly gay candidate to run in the National Assembly and the People’s Committee election in Vietnam, did not make it in either election. This was expected as Huy was not only a young candidate from a minority background; he was also not affiliated with the VCP and was not endorsed by any VCP organizations.
To ensure its power in the legislative branch, the VCP has a history of vote manipulation against non-party, independent self-nominated candidates. The election system itself is also known to be rigged against non-VCP candidates.
Read more on The Vietnamese Magazine’s coverage of Luong The Huy in this election here.
Another Free Speech Crackdown
For the past month, since the 2021 elections started to take shape in Vietnam, there has been at least one new case of the regime cracking down on political dissidents every week.
Last week was no exception: Dang Hoang Minh, an ordinary Facebook user, was sentenced to seven years in prison under the charge of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, and items” against the state. This is Article 117 of the Penal Code, commonly used by the regime to crack down on free speech. Just two weeks ago, the same charge was brought against Le Dung Vova, an independent blogger now wanted by the police.
According to the state-controlled media, Dang Hoang Minh was arrested and charged for uploading to Facebook “information which falsely accused and insulted the leadership credibility of the Party…” Though the state media did not specify what Dang Hoang Minh was accusing the Party of, he was also said to be “insulting the great leader Ho Chi Minh.”
Since the beginning of this year, at least 21 Vietnamese citizens have been arrested and imprisoned due to their activities on social media, according to Radio Free Asia. All of the dissidents in these cases were charged with Article 117.
The Situation in the South China Sea
Last week, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was busy denouncing actions in the contested Paracel and Spratly islands (known in Vietnamese as Truong Sa and Hoang Sa islands).
While these denunciations usually concern China, the actions last week came from the Philippines and Taiwan, though the Vietnamese official communication channels generally regard Taiwan as a part of China.
Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst of the RAND Corporation, wrote on his social media that the situation in the South China Sea last week was a “useful reminder that China isn’t the only maritime counterclaimant Vietnam is concerned about.”
COVID-19 in Vietnam
The Covid-19 situation has not evolved much since the last briefing. The only notable development was perhaps the US putting Vietnam into the “safest for travel” category, although the situation in Vietnam has been rather messy for the past couple of weeks.
For more information on the general COVID-19 situation in Vietnam, see here.
Learn more about Vietnam
Mark Valencia/Asia Times/ June 10, 2021
“Remarkably, the US has failed to take full advantage of China’s diplomatic “own goals” – its incursions into Indonesia’s EEZ, its massing of fishing boats in the Philippines’ EEZ, and its maritime provocations of Malaysia and Vietnam in their claimed waters.
To regain and retain its moral leadership, the US needs to demonstrate that its values and system of government are the best of all for all and that it can and will maintain a competitive edge with China economically and technologically, not just militarily.”
Phuong Pham/The Diplomat/June 07, 2021
“Once regarded as a role model for its successful containment of COVID-19, Vietnam is now in the midst of its fourth wave, its worst since the beginning of the pandemic. Even worse, the stringent measures that previously helped Vietnam put the virus under control have been relatively ineffective, illustrated by the surge in infections since the end of April. This raises a great concern for Vietnam not only with regard to COVID-19 but also on its ability to counter biological threats writ large. With this in mind, Vietnam should establish a national strategy on biological defense in order to help it counter biological threats more effectively, given the current inadequacy of the country’s biological defense capabilities.”
Sebastian Strangio/The Diplomat/June 09, 2021
“Vietnam’s communist leadership has shown great caution in becoming further indebted to a nation that many Vietnamese – including many within the party and government – view with suspicion.”
Events to watch this week:
Date: June 18, 2021
Organizer: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute