Nearly one-third of Vietnam’s lawmakers have expressed dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s performance in the first ever confidence vote, state media reported Tuesday, amid reports of a power struggle within the leadership of the ruling communist party.
Several Vietnamese citizens told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the vote was a sham, intended to cover up the government’s weaknesses and criticism over accountability, and reflected infighting within the administration.
Dung and 46 other top-ranking ministers and officials faced a vote of “high confidence,” “confidence,” or “low confidence” by secret ballot from the 498-member National Assembly, the country’s rubber stamp parliament, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.
Dung received more than 160 negative votes, representing more than 32 percent of assembly members—the third worst rating received by an official in the rare display of scrutiny.
President Truong Tan Sang, who is seen as the main political opponent to Dung, received only 28 negative votes. He also received the third highest number of “high confidence” votes compared to Dung’s rank of 25th.
Dung’s poor rating follows his admission last October that he had failed to effectively lead Vietnam’s economy out of turmoil just one week after he effectively escaped a leadership change at a crucial ruling Communist Party central committee meeting where he was publicly rebuked over a string of scandals that were traced back to the country’s leadership.
The vote provides a rare glimpse into how Sang’s popularity has grown while Dung struggles through his second term as prime minister, which will end in 2016.
Reports have said that the party is split between factions aligned with either the president or the prime minister.
The highest number of negative votes went to Nguyen Van Binh, Vietnam’s central bank governor, who received 209. The country’s education minister, Pham Vu Luan, was given 177 low confidence votes. The economy and the poor standard of schooling are the two highest items on the list of public concerns.
No officials received a rating of low confidence from two-thirds of the assembly which, according to ballot rules, could lead to their forced resignation.
The ballot also lacked a “no confidence” option for voters from the legislative body, where more than 90 percent of lawmakers are card-carrying members of the Communist Party.
The Vietnam News Agency quoted Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung as praising the vote, saying it “reflected exactly the current situation of the country, covering all aspects from society, foreign policy to national defense, security and justice.”
But sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the general public considered the vote an indication of political infighting at the top levels of leadership, and otherwise offered no solution to the country’s problems.
“I think they are preparing for some kind of internal conflict and that the people don’t care about the vote,” said journalist Truong Minh Duc.
“The people do not participate in the National Assembly, so this is just for internal purposes … This is a vote by the Communist Party representatives, not by the people.”
Architect Tran Thanh Van, a prominent intellectual in Hanoi, called for a reevaluation of the system that places officials in positions of power so that the people are better represented.
“The issues of the voting system, how officials stand for election, and the selection of candidates and representatives need to be addressed,” he said.
“The lawmakers need to be elected by the people before any votes take place within the National Assembly.”
A teacher named Pham Toan, called the vote “a mere joke” that failed to take the public sentiment into account.
“Why is the vote of confidence conducted by lawmakers that the people don’t have any confidence in,” Toan asked.
“The vote should have been taken by representatives that the people trust.”
Other sources complained that the government had provided no clear explanation of how it would deal with officials who received low confidence ratings.
In addition to its failure to right an ailing economy and education system, the Communist Party has faced criticism in January for proposing a constitutional revision widely seen as undemocratic.
Vietnamese authorities have also come under fire from human rights groups and some Western governments for jailing and harassing dozens of activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists since stepping up a crackdown on protests and freedom of expression online in recent years.
A female farmer who has repeatedly petitioned the government over losing her land without any resolution said that many Vietnamese have given up hope of having any say in their political future.
“We people at the bottom don’t know what is what. All we can do is hope that those at the top vote with our best interests in mind,” she said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.
“We voiceless people can’t do anything.”
Reported by Viet Long for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.