Vietnamese test taboo on public debate
By Cat Barton ,AFPHANOI -- When Vietnam's communist leaders asked for public comment on their plan to amend the country's constitution they did not anticipate unleashing an unprecedented debate on the party's monopoly on power.
March 9, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
What was supposed to be a ritualistic consultation has morphed into a fierce open discussion on topics like human rights and land ownership on everywhere from state television to dissident blogs.
The furore started when 72 respected academics submitted a petition in January through the National Assembly as part of the consultation process, calling for multiparty democracy, respect for human rights, private land ownership and an apolitical army that served the people not the party.
They also called for the abolition of Article 4, the clause that protects the party's power, and for a clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government — revolutionary demands in the one-party state that have spread like wildfire online.
“Vietnamese from all walks of life, including party members, are calling for them to remove Article 4 from the constitution. It is necessary for the people and for the party itself,” prominent dissident Nguyen Thanh Giang, one of those who signed the petition, told AFP.
By guaranteeing the party's supremacy, Article 4 has “led to corruption and abuse of power,” and allowed the unaccountable leadership to become “totally removed from reality and an obstacle to Vietnam's development,” he added.
Nearly 6,000 people have signed the petition so far — the public consultation period on the reforms ends on March 31 — and it has even found support among a section of the Communist Party itself.
Deputy minister of justice Hoang The Lien even called for more controls on party power “to fight against the abuse of power and monopoly,” during an online discussion organised by the government.
The leaders have not yet made any specific proposals themselves on what changes they would like to make to the constitution, which was first approved in 1946 and has been amended four times since — most recently in 1992.
Founded in 1930, Vietnam's Communist Party led the country to independence from the French and then to victory over the Americans in a decades-long bloody war.
It has ruled unified Vietnam as a one-party state since 1975. The party tightly controls public debate and routinely imprisons dissidents who question the political system or call for change.
A woman cycles past a communist propaganda poster in Hanoi, Tuesday, March 5.