The National Assembly election will take place on May 22. The body has an important constitutional role on paper but has always been seen as more of an ornamentation, manipulated by the Communist party to bolster the legitimacy of its rule. Despite its limitations, pro-democracy activists believe there is some scope to develop a more representative system through existing structures. Some foreign governments have also seen value in developing contacts and cooperation with the National Assembly in the hope that it will evolve into a more democratic forum. Doan Trang compiled this assessment of the National Assembly and how it fits into Vietnam’s broader political framework.
– What is the National Assembly ?
The Vietnamese Constitution stipulates that “The National Assembly is the highest representative body of the people and the highest body of state power of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The National Assembly exercises constitutional and legislative powers, decides significant national affairs and exercises supreme control over all activities of the State.”
It is a unicameral body elected to a five-year term and meets twice a year.
– How many political parties are there in the National Assembly?
As Vietnam is a single-party state, there is only one ruling party, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP).
95% of the National Assembly are communists. The rest are non-communists at the time they are elected, but often they will be recruited at a later date.
– What is the relationship between the VCP and the National Assembly ?
The political system in Vietnam comprises three components: 1. The VCP; 2. The State; and 3. The Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.
The State comprises the National Assembly, the President, the Government, the Supreme Court, the People’s Supreme Procuracy, and local governments.
So, the National Assembly is part of the state, which is, in principle, equal to the VCP. But, at the same time, the party line is demonstrated in one of their ambiguous slogans, “The Party leads, the State manages, the People are the owners.”
– How are they functioning in practice?
The VCP system runs the same way as the state hierarchy does. In every public office, there is a party cell which is responsible to the local party cell, be it at the provincial or district level. In the military and the police force, there are party cells operating in compliance with the VCP’s charter and instructions and national law.
– How does the VCP “lead” the country as stated in the slogan ?
The VCP is authorised to lead the state and the civil society sector (or “political-social organisations as they put it) by adopting communist ideology and codifying its lines, resolutions and instructions into national laws. Furthermore, the VCP maintains its authority to recommend its “cadres” for election or appointment into public offices and political-social organisations.
– What are the People’s Councils?
Under the Constitution, “the People’s Council is the local body of state power; it represents the will, aspirations and mastery of the local people; it is elected by the local people and is accountable to them and to the superior state bodies.”
“The People’s Council shall decide on local issues provided by the law; supervise conformity to the constitution and the laws at local level and the implementation of the resolutions of the People’s Council.”
“The People’s Committee elected by the People’s Council is the latter’s executive body, the body of local state administration, and is accountable to the People’s Council and superior state bodies.”
– What is the Fatherland Front?
According to Article 9 of the 2013 Constitution, the Fatherland Front is “a political alliance and a voluntary union of political organisations, socio-political organisations, social organisations and individuals representing their social classes and strata, ethnicities, religions, and overseas Vietnamese.”
“The Labour Federation, the Peasant Society, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, the Women’s Association and the Veteran Society are socio-political organisations that cooperate with others members of the Fatherland Front and unify the activities of the Fatherland Front.”
So the Fatherland Front acts like a token “civil society” organisation that unifies other CSOs in the country.
The Fatherland Front plays a major role in the National Assembly election.
– How many deputies are there in the National Assembly?
According to the Law on Organization of the National Assembly, the total number of deputies shall not exceed 500.
– How long is a term of office?
Five years, in conformity with the term of each National Assembly. Meetings are convened twice per year, one month for each.
– How many committees does the National Assembly have?
The National Assembly has a standing body, an ethnic council, and nine committees: (1) Committee on Laws; (2) Committee on Judicial Affairs; (3) Committee on Economic Affairs; (4) Committee on Financial and Budgetary Affairs; (5) Committee on National Defence and Security; (6) Committee on Culture, Education, Adolescents, and Children; (7) Committee on Social Affairs; (8) Committee on Science, Technology, and Environment; and (9) Committee on Foreign Affairs.
And now, on the election process
– Officials often refer to the term “to structure” when it comes to National Assembly election. What does it mean ?
It means that the Standing Committee of the National Assembly reserves the right to carefully structure the National Assembly and the People’s Councils according to their own plan. The structure must ensure a “balance of interests” among all social groups.
For instance, this forthcoming 14th National Assembly shall include women to a 35 percent of the total deputies. It shall have 15 representatives of the Ministry of National Defence, 3 deputies from the Ministry of Public Security, and 7 from the business sector.
The Standing Committee also confirmed in January that the 14th National Assembly will have 500 deputies chosen from 896 candidates.
Only 25-50 non-communist candidates may stand for the election according to Nguyen Sinh Hung, the Chairman of the National Assembly, in remarks on January 16.
– How can they make sure that the structure will go as planned?
First, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly will work with the Fatherland Front to “negotiate” the structure of the National Assembly to be elected and the representatives of each office or organisation. This step is called “the first round of negotiation.”
In the next step, the Standing Committee will decide the number of constituencies and the number of deputies to be elected for each constituency, then inform these numbers to concerned offices or organisations and constituency.
The concerned offices or organizations, upon receiving the information or instruction from the Standing Committee and the Fatherland Front, shall nominate candidates; the list of candidates shall be submitted to the Fatherland Front, which is formally the organiser of the election.
Those who run for the post as independent candidates need to register at the local branch of the Fatherland Front.
Then comes the “second round of negotiation” held by the Fatherland Front, where constituents will be asked to give their assessments on the candidates in their constituency and office or organisation.
Very often these “negotiations” become public denunciations, when the candidates, especially independent ones, are fiercely criticised by the voters in public forums. It is believed that the Fatherland Front and the organisers of the “negotiations” sometimes employ people from other areas to the event and join the public in disparaging candidates not favoured by the party.
The candidates’ supporters, if any, are usually not permitted to attend an event organised by the local authorities and the Fatherland Front.
If the candidates pass this round of negotiation, there is still the third round ahead of them. In this “third round of negotiation”, the Fatherland Front will review the list of candidates and reject those they consider to be “unqualified”, and they do this in the candidates’ absence.
The final list of official candidates will be released after these three rounds of negotiation.
– Are the candidates required to present their legislative agenda?
Not all of them. Only “qualified” candidates. Those who are chosen and pass all three rounds of negotiation, may have a chance to present their agenda in the meetings with constituents arranged for them by the Fatherland Front.
However, once they pass the three rounds with the hidden support from the Fatherland Front, they will have a greater chance to be elected as National Assembly deputies. So the “meetings with constituents” are more like a formal and symbolic procedure.
The state-owned press will also be on the side of those “arranged” candidates.
Finally the election day will come, and very often the turnout will be extremely high in every constituency of the country.