Vietnam held parliamentary elections on Sunday, with voters interviewed shrugging off the exercise as a mere formality confirming the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power.
Sixty million people cast ballots for 500 members of the lawmaking National Assembly, which has in the past served largely as a rubber stamp for the Communist Party’s leadership but has begun to take on a more outspoken role.
But voters expected few surprises from the election, in which voting is mandatory and 86 percent of the candidates are Communist Party members.
A woman named Phuoc at a polling station in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon and Vietnam’s largest city, said she went to vote because she had to.
“It’s not so crowded,” she said. “We just follow as they instruct us to do, and then whoever wins, we will be informed of the winners.”
Ong Liem of Quang Tri province, on the north-central Vietnam coast, said that because voting is mandatory, some people have officials help fill out ballots for them.
“I live in a rural area. I saw many people go to the polling station … Rural people are not so well educated, so when they go to the station, they ask the officials there to help them with the ballots,” he said.
“As citizens, we vote, according to the government’s policy. Each citizen has their own opinion, but they cannot stay at home and not vote,” he said.
Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam in Australia, said that Vietnamese voters would not expect much from the candidates.
"Vietnam's electoral process has been designed to prevent hot-button issues from being discussed by the candidates," he said.
"Voters are not presented a choice of candidates who differ on how issues such as inflation and rising prices should be addressed," Agence France-Presse reported.
Inflation in Vietnam is currently at its fastest pace in almost two and a half years and threatens to dampen growth.
Voters will choose from among 827 candidates, all of whom have been vetted by the Fatherland Front, a powerful party umbrella organization. The Fatherland Front selected 98 percent of the candidates, while only 15 nominated themselves and then received approval to run from the organization.
Nguyen Thi Lan, a would-be candidate for the People’s Council in Hanoi who was not approved for the ballot, said she would not take part in the vote.
“This election is only a formality. I myself am deprived of my rights because I was not approved, without just reason. Those who voted, voted with the direction of the Communist Party. Because of that, my family and I will not vote.”
“There is no right and there is no authority to deprive the people of their democratic rights. They have no right to suppress the people,” she said.
Said Phan Van Loi, a priest and activist involved with Bloc 8406, a coalition of political parties that advocate for democratic reforms:
“This is a pseudo-election which will select the loyalists to the party. Most of the candidates are Communist Party members. Only a few are nonmember candidates, but they too are carefully selected by the Communist Party. They obey easily what the Party decides.”
Although the National Assembly is constitutionally the highest-ranking authority and officially selects the country’s top ministers, in practice it has often served as a rubber stamp for the Communist Party's Politburo’s decisions.
But experts say the National Assembly is becoming more assertive. Last year the assembly rejected a government-approved plan to build a high-speed train system and considered a no-confidence vote in the prime minister over the handling of the collapsed shipbuilding company Vinashin.
This year, all 14 members of the Politburo, already selected by the Communist Party as its top leadership, are also standing for election to the National Assembly.
This may be a “step toward greater legitimacy,” Thayer said. “This will be a test of their popularity in their constituencies.”
The election results are expected in about a week.
Reported by Thao Dao for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translation by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.