The Communist party has indicated that it is open to “dialogue and debate” with the people – a rare admission that the party does not hold all the answers.
The proposal, from a leading member of the politburo, suggests that the party may be preparing to explore tactics other than repression to handle its critics.
The head of the Central Propaganda Department, Vo Van Thuong, said the party was ready to hear different opinions and to look outside its own ranks for ideas.
“We are not afraid of dialogue, not afraid of argument, because the development of every theory and revolutionary doctrine must also be based on friction and debate,” he said, in comments quoted by state media.
However, it is far from clear what form any discussion or “dialogue” will be permissible in a country that uses catch- all terms such as “abusing democratic freedoms” and “conducting propaganda against the state” to imprison government critics.
The Vietnamese Communist party is currently engaged in a campaign of heavy handed repression to intimidate and silence human rights campaigners, political activists and other critics.
Environmental activists and bloggers have been subjected to violent assaults and arrest for their involvement in a protest movement over last year’s environmental disaster off the central coast.
The indication from the party leadership that it is considering some form dialogue will therefore be greeted with scepticism by many activists.
Some will suspect a government tactic to marginalise them further, by engaging in dialogue with certain disenchanted groups, but continuing to persecute anyone calling for real pluralism.
However, some observers welcome any sign that the party is acknowledging need for change and more openness.
Resentment in central provinces
The Communist party leadership appears to have been rattled by the mini uprising in Dong Tam commune near Hanoi last month, in which police and government officials were taken prisoner by angry farmers.
The party is also disconcerted by continuing resentment in central provinces following last year’s toxic leak and the failure of officials to satisfy local concerns.
A massive growth in the use of social media, with some 40 million Vietnamese using Facebook, has also pulled the rug out from under the government’s once jealously guarded monopoly on information.
Mr Thuong gave no details about what form any “dialogue” would take, who would be invited to take part, and what issues would be considered acceptable.
He said that further guidance was still being awaited from the Central Party Secretariat.
The statement, however, can be seen as an indication that the party is concerned about rising discontent in the country, and is looking for ways to address it that go beyond the use of violent repression and lengthy terms of imprisonment.