Party wins big in Vietnam, but with a few twists
As has happened every few years since the mid-1940s Vietnam’s Communists won parliamentary elections last month by a landslide, claiming 91.6 percent of the chamber’s 500 seats, officials announced on Friday. No surprises there. The Communist Party has a constitutionally-mandated monopoly on power.
We noted in a story on election day that the vote was rigged to retain party control although the outcome would allow for the legislature’s role in policymaking to continue to grow incrementally.
On Friday the results showed that more self-nominated candidates and more businessmen were elected to the unicameral body this time around than ever before. Four out of 15 self-nominated candidates made it this year, including the vice chairwoman of Hanoi’s young businesspeoples’ association and a doctor who runs his own hospital. Four years ago at the last National Assembly election only 1 of the 30 self-nominees who ran landed a seat.
Voters handed seats to Dang Thanh Tam and Dang Thi Hoang Yen, two of the country’s best known capitalists and perhaps the country’s richest brother and sister duo. They preside over the conglomerate Saigon Invest Group and other companies. Pham Huy Hung, head of VietinBank, the country’s biggest partly-private bank, also got seat. So did Dinh La Thang, chairman of state oil and gas group Petrovietnam, which is probably the country’s most influential company. State media said its revenues this year are expected to be close to a quarter of the nation’s GDP and it makes annual tax contributions that put it in a league of its own.
Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales, said the inclusion of businessmen in the national assembly followed the Party’s decision to allow entrepreneurs into its ranks and even install some on its policy-making Central Committee at a congress in January. “The National Assembly seems to be following that theme of getting people with practical experience that are safe into the National Assembly to add their expertise to the process,” he said.
But it may be a while before everyone’s comfortable with the arrangements. Nguyen Si Dung, deputy director of the National Assembly Office, told reporters there was some concern about conflict of interest with regard to businesspeople now participating in the heretofore rubber stamp parliament. He called for a code of conduct that would prohibit business owners from lobbying or voting for any law that relates to their business interests, such as the law on corporate tax. Businessmen also shouldn’t join the economic committee, he said.
Other demographic targets were missed. Seventy-eight people from ethic minority groups were elected, 12 fewer than targeted; 122 women won seats, 28 below target and 1.36 percent fewer than in the outgoing parliament; 62 people under the age of 40 were elected, eight under target and 1.39 percent lower than last time. Finally, 42 non-party members won seats, which missed a 10 percent target.
On the political front there were some surprises. Fifteen out of 182 candidates nominated by central government or party organs were not elected, including a member of the party’s central committee, Le Thi Thu Ba. Ba is a National Assembly incumbent and chair of the judicial committee. It was unclear exactly why she was dumped.
Thayer said that in past elections there had been about half as many central candidates who didn’t make it.
“It tells us that however contrived these elections are political scientists and observers still have to explain the variance and it seems to me that there’s an element of choice by the people,” he said.
In a shift from the 2007 poll, the entire 14-member Politburo were elected this time. Thayer said this was orchestrated to give them more “credibility” as leaders, even though they were not elected by the entire nation but by small electoral districts of their choosing.
“And so the Vietnamese can have their cake and eat it too,” Thayer said.