Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung faced an unprecedented call for his resignation on the floor of parliament Wednesday as a lawmaker challenged him to take greater responsibility for mistakes in handling the troubled economy of the one-party communist state.
In a daring challenge to the prime minister that was aired on TV, Duong Trung Quoc, one of few representatives in the National Assembly not affiliated with the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party, said the people demanded more than an apology for the government’s failings.
Quoc suggested that by quitting, Dung could help the country move toward a “culture of resignation” that holds politicians more accountable to the people.
“Are you willing to start the government’s progress towards a culture of resignation, in order to break away step by step from the apologies?” Quoc asked the prime minister, who had escaped punishment at a party meeting last month over a string of scandals involving state-run firms that have tainted the country's leadership.
Qouc’s statement was believed to the first public call for Dung’s resignation by a member of the National Assembly.
Dung responded that he was serving as prime minister according to the wishes of the party and the assembly, implying he would not resign.
“Under the direct leadership and management of the Party, during the last 51 years [that I’ve been a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party] I have never asked for any positions. On the other hand, I have never denied any service that the party assigned to me,” he said.
Dung’s second five-year term was approved by the communist-controlled parliament in July 2011.
“The party has decided to volunteer me for the post of prime minister and to continue with the task of prime minister that was assigned by the Central Committee and the assembly voted for,” he said.
“I’m willing to accept and willing to fulfill earnestly any decision of the party, the Central Committee, and the Assembly.”
In a National Assembly session last month, Dung admitted that he had failed to effectively lead the country’s economy out of turmoil amid a spate of corporate scandals and inefficient management of major state-run firms.
He said he had made “mistakes” in his leadership that blackened the country’s reputation, vowing to work harder to amend official shortcomings.
He specifically pointed to the failure to address scandals such as the near-collapse of state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin in 2010 under a debt of about U.S. $4.5 billion and for sparking investor concerns over the management of the country’s other government-run firms.
Following public outcry over the shipbuilder, the government had admitted that Dung had played a role in allowing the mismanagement of state-owned firms including Vinashin, but said the "shortcomings and mistakes" were not serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.
The back-and-forth between Dung and Quoc provoked enthusiastic response among those who saw it on TV or online in Vietnam, where political debate is restricted.
Mai Thai Linh, former vice president of the Da Lat City People Committee in southeastern Vietnam, said he thought the prime minister’s response that he served in accordance with the party’s wishes was a reflection of how much the Vietnamese Communist Party dominates the country’s politics.
“All such positions [like that of prime minister] have been decided by the party’s congress. That’s why the people have no impact on the leadership machinery and that machinery has no accountability to the people,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese service.
“It’s the basic problem of the communist regime. The decision of who takes what positions can no way be made by the people.”
“The National Assembly only does one thing: formalize what has been set up by the party,” he said.
Another commentator, Professor Tuong Lai, former Head of Vietnam Institute of Sociology Science, said that because the prime minister serves the party, any movement toward greater accountability in Vietnam’s political system would require a revamp of the entire system.
“The prime minister would stay wherever the party put him and would quit if the party told him to quit,” he said.
“[So] I think the issue is not to the replacement of the prime minister, the head of the assembly, or head of state, but the replacement of the whole system, the whole regime.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.