Vietnam Goes to The Polls With State-Approved Candidates Offering Little Choice

Meanwhile, some self-nominated candidates remain in detention.
2021-05-21
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Vietnam Goes to The Polls With State-Approved Candidates Offering Little Choice Vietnamese motorists pass signs about the upcoming National Assembly and People's Council elections, in Hanoi, May 19, 2021.
AFP

Millions of Vietnamese will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in elections discredited by the arrests of self-nominated candidates who had planned to run for seats in the National Assembly and People’s Councils, hoping to shake up rule under the country’s Communist Party.

More than 69 million people of Vietnam’s population of 98 million are eligible to vote in the general elections.

Though the government has shown greater openness amid its shift from a centrally planned to a market economy in recent decades, the Communist Party still retains a tight grip on the rubber-stamp parliament and the media, and tolerates little opposition to its policies.

In all, 868 candidates are contesting for nearly 500 seats in the legislature, including 74 non-Party candidates who had to pass muster with the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a political coalition group aligned with the Communist Party that reviews candidates.

Nine of those running are self-nominated, and six of them are members of the Vietnamese Communist Party, according to state media.

There also are 6,201 candidates contesting for 3,727 seats in People’s Councils at all levels, state media said.

Female candidates account for 393, or over 45 percent, of the total number of candidates vying for assembly seats.

The government has set a target of increasing the percentage of female deputies in the National Assembly to more than 35 percent by 2030. More than 130 Vietnamese women won legislative seats in the 2016 general elections, bringing the level of female deputies to nearly 27 percent.

Dang Thi Anh Dao, a two-term People’s Council representative in Can Tho City, said most women are held back from higher office because they hold lower-level positions in government agencies and organizations’

“Our provincial experiences show that although many female candidates have better education background and expertise than their male competitors, they still fail in the elections [for the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels] as their political positions are very low,” she said during an online conference hosted by the United Nations Development Programme on Wednesday.

“If we want to have over 35 percent of the members of the National Assembly and People’s Councils being women, we must set a similar target for women in leadership at government agencies” she said.

Vietnam is ranked at 87 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

Arrests of self-nominated candidates

Authorities have arrested several self-nominated candidates in recent months, including Hanoi-based blogger Tran Quoc Khanh and Le Trong Hung, online broadcaster for CHTV, for “disseminating anti-state materials,” even though the central government has openly discussed an initiative to “open doors wider for self-nominated candidates.”

Authorities also indicted Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a well-known activist who raised funds for the families of jailed prisoners of conscience, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, an independent journalist and former RFA Vietnamese Service blogger, on the same charges. The two were self-nominated candidates in the 2016 National Assembly elections.

In April, police detained ethnic Cham poet Nguyen Quoc Huy, who goes by the pen name Dong Chuong Tu, who advocates for assistance for the poor in his hometown Ma Lam and had expressed his hopes to represent fellow members of the ethnic Cham minority in the country’s National Assembly. He was released after four days of investigation.

Independent National Assembly candidate Le Trong Hung was arrested on March 27 when he nominated himself as a candidate from Hanoi city, and was detained at the Hanoi Police Department’s Detention Center No. 1. He was charged with “creating, storing, disseminating information and materials” against the state.

Now, Hung can no longer receive items from his family, sparking concern that he may have gone on a hunger strike or fallen seriously ill, his wife Le Na told RFA on Tuesday, adding that when she went to the detention center to take her husband some supplies, a staffer told her to take a seat and wait.

“After about half an hour, the staff member came out and gave me a note saying that ‘from now on, Mr. Hung will not receive any gifts or money deposits from his family,’” she said.

The person said Hung wanted his wife to save the money to better care for their two children. But Le Na said she found the explanation to be “unreasonable” because Hung could have asked her to bring fewer items or to send only presents to him.

“Sending nothing means that from now on, we won’t be able to see his signature when we go to the detention center,” she added, referring to the receipts he must sign when receiving money or supplies. The signatures were an indication that Hung was still alive and healthy enough to sign.

RFA was unable to reach detention center officials because no telephone numbers are publicly available and the national call center refused to provide the officials’ numbers or addresses.

On Monday, Hanoi police investigation officer Phan Quoc Uy informed Le Na that it is up to the detention center to decide whether detainees can receive supplies and gifts from their family members, and that Hanoi security authorities do not allow detainees to see their families during investigation periods.

The U.S. State Department said in a 2020 report on human rights practice in Vietnam that the 2016 National Assembly elections were not free and fair because of limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates and a lack of monitoring by NGOs.

Communist Party candidates won 475 of the 496 seats in the 2016 elections, while the remaining 21 want to non-party members and independent candidates. Nearly 100 independent candidates had contested in the elections.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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