Two senior members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party have resigned to lead a long-proposed pro-democracy opposition group, saying the government must allow a multiparty state and end monopoly on political power.
Le Hieu Dang—a leading dissident and 40-year Communist Party member—and Pham Chi Dung—a journalist and 20-year party member—announced their resignations in open letters this week, saying they no longer believe the party serves the interests of the Vietnamese people.
Dang, a civil rights lawyer who founded the banned Social Democratic Party in August, said in his letter that the Communist Party is no longer committed to the ideals it had sought before liberating the nation from French colonial rule in 1954.
“The party has been degrading [since our independence],” Dang said in the missive released Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“In fact, it is now a party which benefits certain groups and has become an obstacle to the development of our country and its people. It now works against the benefit of our people.”
Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Dang said he was motivated by the adoption last month by the Communist-dominated National Assembly—Vietnam’s parliament—of a revised constitution which maintains the party’s grip on power, despite widespread proposals calling for reforms.
“That is the reason [I quit]—the National Assembly acted against the will of our people and against the interest of our country, so I knew I could no longer stay in the party,” he said.
“The National Assembly’s interests are against those of the people, especially in terms of land issues, democracy, and human rights. I can say this National Assembly is simply a puppet, they can’t do anything [against the party].”
The new version of the constitution was overwhelming approved by the National Assembly, with 486 of 488 lawmakers who were present voting for it, with two abstentions.
Dang called socialism “an illusion” that people are “fed up with,” adding that even the political system’s biggest proponents no longer adhere to its principles.
“Why do the leaders’ children go to capitalist countries to study while they force the people to follow this delusional pathway which leads nowhere?” he asked.
“The Communist Party is the obstacle to the development of our nation—it is the most dangerous thing we face, and we need to fight to stop it.”
The Communist Party, which has based its grassroots support on rapid economic growth over the past decades, has been battered in recent years by a series of high-level corruption scandals in state-owned enterprises.
Fighting the party
Dang said his frustration with the Communists had led to his decision to form the Social Democratic Party.
The party aims to establish multiparty rule and “build a true democracy,” according to its leaders, who have vowed to confront the government despite the risk of arrest.
“Establishing the party was the wish of the whole society … I initiated it so that the people could find a way to make it come true, but I can’t do it by myself,” he said, adding that he has since received “a lot of support.”
Hundreds of Communist Party members have already decided to leave the Communist Party to join the new party, according to a statement by the Social Democratic Party, whose founding followed rare public debate this year on the need for constitutional amendments allowing multiparty rule.
The Communist Party’s monopoly on power is enshrined in the constitution, and the formation of other parties is banned. Questioning Communist Party rule is considered a serious crime in Vietnam, and dozens of activists and netizens have been arrested this year for anti-state activities.
Dang called on the people of Vietnam to build a strong civil society—“strong enough to check [government] power [and] to influence the government”—as well as to put the country’s needs above the needs of themselves and their families.
He predicted that “more people will quit the [Communist] party in the near future.”
“A civil society movement has been born and gradually it will get stronger—this is an irreversible trend,” he said.
“Whatever the government does, our people—especially the intellectuals—must work to defeat our fear. We can’t be afraid … [We must] fight to protect our sovereignty, for human rights, and to protect our environment.”
Pham Chi Dung, in his Thursday letter of resignation, called the move “the most difficult decision of my life” as the member of a revolutionary family who was trained in the military and had dedicated years of service to the government and the party.
“I used to have a burning desire to contribute to an equal socialist nation … However, what the Communist Party has done as a totalitarian leader … has made me and many other party members go from disappointment to desperation,” the letter read.
“Never before has corruption been so rampant at all levels. Never before have specific groups and political cronies benefited so profoundly from their cooperation [with the party]. Never before has the gap between the poor and the rich been so wide.”
Dung accused the party leadership of forming a “monopoly” of power and providing benefits for the well-connected, who he said were abusing their privileges and squandering the country’s wealth and resources.
“The party and people like me came from the people and are supposed to work for the people. But once the party no longer has the benefit of the majority in mind, why should we continue to be faithful to the party?” he asked.
Call for opposition
Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Dung called on the government to institute a multiparty system in order to save the country from ruin.
“We need to have political opposition … At the moment, Vietnam’s leaders only talk about rule of law, but they don’t have any system of checks and balances. Without that how can we have rule of law?” he asked.
“This is a kind of word puzzle used to buy more time. But who will benefit from this? Nobody—neither the people nor the state. Everything is in crisis, from social policy to the economy. That is why we must act immediately.”
He said that young adults in their 20s and 30s who have recently joined the party or are in the process of applying should “rethink” their decision.
“We are not against the party … but we need to rethink the party’s role to determine whether it is still suitable for our country,” he said.
“Young people will take over the ruling of the country … therefore they need to think about their choice—whether they should choose the party or something better. They can choose [a system] that [better] represents the people … anything that contributes to democracy for Vietnam.”
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.