The patriarch of a banned Buddhist group in Vietnam has warned the country’s communist government leaders of a backlash if they do not respond to mounting online calls for amendments to Vietnam’s constitution aimed at putting an end to one-party rule.
Thich Quang Do, a prominent dissident and head of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), called on the leaders to respect the wishes of thousands of Vietnamese—including former senior ruling Vietnamese Communist Party members—who have signed online petitions demanding democratic reforms in the constitution.
Do backed two of the online petitions calling for the removal of a provision that underlines the leadership role of the Communist Party in the constitution, which is set for a rewrite by the end of this year.
“I wish the Party would listen to the people, and manage the country according to the people’s wishes,” Do told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday.
“I know the people,” he said. “They will be angry if all their requests are ignored. Once they get angry, it is hard to stop them."
Vietnam’s parliament has been soliciting recommendations for the new draft charter since January, prompting an unprecedented online debate that officials are now warning has gone too far.
Do said the proposals for the revisions to the constitution “are very important because the existing constitution has Article 4 giving the Party sole leadership of the whole country.”
The article, which describes the VCP as “the force assuming leadership of the State and society,” allows the Party too much power, he said.
“That gives them a monopoly in managing the economy, culture, society, and education. Everything is planned and ruled by the Party. They did that to consolidate their position.”
A group of 72 intellectuals and former VCP members had in January posted online a proposal for the new draft constitution that omits Article 4.
The document, which the 72 signatories submitted as a petition to the National Assembly, was quickly circulated among Vietnam’s netizens and has collected more than 6,000 online signatures of support.
Another document, the “Declaration of Free Citizens,” posted in February, calls for the removal of Article 4, as well as the promotion of a pluralistic and multiparty system, and has collected more than 4,000 online signatures.
Do, who heads the UBCV from under house arrest at his monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, said he wants other Vietnamese citizens to support the calls in the two petitions.
“I hope that all monks and nuns, and all of the Vietnamese people, make efforts to support these two documents so that they can be realized.”
Banned Buddhist body
Do said the UBCV, which is banned under Vietnam’s strict laws on religious activity that require groups to be supervised by government-controlled management boards, has long advocated for similar reforms.
“Our church has been advocating for a pluralist democracy for decades,” he said, pointing to recommendations outlined by the UBCV calling for a multiparty system and pluralist democracy.
The UBCV was effectively banned in 1981 and supplanted by the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, which is controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front.
UBCV members have called on the Communist Party to change laws guiding religious freedom in Vietnam, where religious activity is strictly monitored and worship outside of state-sanctioned groups is forbidden.
Senior government officials have promised the revised constitution will include an emphasis on human rights and citizens’ rights, but online debate about the amendments has tested taboos on political discussion.
The government asked for suggestions on the proposed revisions to the 1992 constitution in January, opening up a comments page on its website and inviting the public to submit suggestions by March 31.
But last month in a speech broadcast on national television, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong slammed critics calling for the removal of Article 4 and other constitutional reforms, lambasting them as a sign of the “deterioration” of the country’s morals and ethics.
The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau, a UBCV-affiliated rights group, said a recent statement by Do in support of the online petitions was inspired by journalist Nguyen Dac Kien, who was fired from his newspaper last month after his blog post criticizing Trong’s speech went viral.
Sources told RFA that many of the websites hosting the petition by the 72 intellectuals had been shut down by official censors to prevent the public from accessing it.
The National Assembly is set to debate the constitutional amendments at its next legislative session in May and will vote on a draft in October.
Reported by Y. Lan for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.