A campaign to challenge the Communist party in upcoming legislative elections is gathering momentum despite signs that the police are closely monitoring potential independent candidates.
Ten civil society activists in Hanoi have joined the veteran pro-democracy campaigner, Dr Nguyen Quang A, announcing they will also stand for seats on the National Assembly in May.
The initiative reflects the growing confidence of activists as they seek to rally popular support for an open challenge to the Communist party’s monopoly on power.
Dr A’s campaign has emerged as a rallying point for government critics, who see an opportunity to test recent statements by Communist party leaders that Vietnam practices a high degree of democracy.
A former party member, army officer and entrepreneur, Dr A says he will campaign on an agenda of legal reform, proposing the repeal of repressive and unconstitutional laws.
Another independent candidate, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, posted a video clip saying she would run in order “to exercise my rights as a citizen.”
She said her priorities would be to internationalise the territorial disputes between China and Vietnam, and to protect women from domestic violence.
Some of the candidates say they have already received visits from the police to question them about their intentions.
Some potential candidates said they would wait and assess the reaction of the police before deciding whether to run.
None of the independent candidates, however, appear to believe they have a realistic chance of winning a seat, because of a nomination process that is controlled by the Communist party and its proxies, such as the Fatherland Front.
Their aim is to test the reaction of the authorities, and to expose to public view the procedures that are used to impede a democratic process.
Analysts said the emergence of independent candidates, nonetheless, indicated that the democratic movement was getting stronger, and had much improved its use of social networking and the rapid dissemination of information.
Fixed in advance
The campaign could prove embarrassing for the Communist party if its claims to back a democratic system are exposed to public view as a sham.
The candidates will have an opportunity to highlight the tactics used by the Communist party to exclude opposition candidates during the nomination process.
In past elections the number of candidates and elected deputies has been fixed in advance through a process known euphemistically as “structuring” the National Assembly.
The party says this process ensures that the right level of representation is assigned to various social groups including women, peasants, industrial workers, entrepreneurs, ethnic minorities, and religious communities.
However, more than 90% of legislators have always been party members.
The majority stay silent or express no independent opinions in a body that has largely served as a rubber stamp, intended to give some form of procedural legitimacy to rule by the Communist party, which sets policy guidelines and controls the executive branch of government.
A few delegates, however, have raised critical voices in the past and have received praise in the media for what is often cited as their “honesty and bravery”.
Some even took on a heroic stature in the eyes of the public, most notably Nguyen Minh Thuyet, Le Thi Nga, and Nguyen Dinh Xuan, but any dissent is contained within a strictly controlled format.
Despite this, voter turnout has been extremely high in previous elections and the dissident candidates do see some opportunities to benefit from this apparent public enthusiasm for elections.