May 17, 2007 / 6:10 AM / 12 years ago

Vietnamese to vote for influential National Assembly

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese go to the polls on Sunday to elect delegates to the next five-year term of the National Assembly, the steward of the communist-run country’s socio-economic transformation.

Only a few candidates are not members of the ruling Communist Party, though for the past 15 years the government has called for contested parliamentary elections and broader participation.

It has also encouraged candidates to run on their own instead of being nominated by a state organization, as most still are.

The 876 candidates in Sunday’s election for 500 seats include 30 “self-nominated” people, double that of the 2002 election.

“We hope that among these there will be more people elected to parliament, because last time only two independent candidates were elected,” said Nguyen Si Dung, an electoral expert in the National Assembly office.

In all, there are 150 candidates who are not members of the Communist Party, which does not tolerate any challenge to its rule outside of its circle of supervision.

Since March, courts have put on trial and jailed at least seven political activists who called for a multi-party system. Two were accused of incitement to disrupt the May 20 voting.

Authorities review all National Assembly candidates and those deemed too controversial are kept off the ballot.

Still, the National Assembly is no longer viewed as a rubber stamp for the Communist Party. Its directly elected members are playing a greater role in scrutinizing government policy — particularly the high profile campaign against corruption, which the Party sees as the main threat to its long-term survival.

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Most candidates are nominated by social organizations, companies or central or provincial government. Independents must win approval of colleagues and neighbors in straw ballots.

In successive election years since 1992, delegates have come from an ever larger pool of candidates, although 90 percent of the current legislature belongs to the Communist Party.

Two-thirds of Ho Chi Minh City’s prospective candidates and about half in Hanoi were not Party members.

Some districts, particularly in southern Vietnam, will be more heavily contested than those in northern and central areas. Electoral law was changed in 1992 to require that all seats be contested, but in practice, some are not.

Four out of five candidates are first-time campaigners.

Officials are emphasizing the presence of self-nominated candidates and a push for better educated delegates to handle the new global environment the Vietnamese are navigating.

Among the tasks of the newly elected delegates will be to ensure Vietnam carries out commitments to the World Trade organization, officials said. Vietnam joined in January.

In the 2002-2007 tenure, delegates passed hundreds of laws to carry out economic, legal and social change under a 20-year policy of “renewal” that has lifted millions out of poverty, made deep social and generational change and integrated the country with the rest of the world after decades of war and isolation.

While the Party has largely liberalized the economy and tweaked parliamentary elections to provide more choice, it is not considering liberal democracy in the Western sense.

“The leadership thinks about democracy in one-party terms and it isn’t a contradiction in terms,” said Martin Gainsborough, political analyst at the University of Bristol, England. “For them, liberal democracy is a contradiction because there is a monopoly of the bourgeoisie and ‘the people’s interests’ are not represented.”

For the past three weeks of campaigning, residents of cities, towns and villages have been woken each day by announcements on communal loudspeakers about candidates in their district.

Voice of Vietnam radio starts its morning news bulletin with folk music and a reading of independence leader and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh’s writing in 1945: “The general election is an opportunity for the entire nation to freely choose people with talent and morals to carry on the national cause.”

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