Officials accused of enforcing peoples' consent
Public told to agree to constitution changes
ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
March 13, 2013
State officials are demanding people across the country endorse Communist Party-proposed changes to the constitution in what appears to be the latest government attempt to counter opposition to the process.
In what was seen as a landmark, the government invited public feedback on the first constitutional changes in 20 years.
But people in Ho Chi Minh City said that officials were trying to force them to sign off on the carefully worded changes amid unprecedented public criticism of the one-party system.
On condition of anonymity, a woman in Ho Chi Minh City told how an official tried to force her to sign a copy of the draft agreement. “I resolutely refused [to sign] and told him that I do not know what the document is,” she said.
The angry official tried to persuade her for two hours, she added, before he gave up and left.
With the state trying to force people to endorse the constitutional changes instead of giving voluntary feedback, “the government is contradicting itself,” she said.
Last week, the government extended the process from the end of March until the end of September as the country considers changes which include greater mention of terms like human rights but little or no change to the structure of the one-party system.
Peter Dao Hong Khanh, a Catholic in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thu Duc district, said that there had been efforts by authorities to get people to sign off on the changes in his parish but instead it had circulated literature on different proposals which bishops presented to the National Assembly on March 1.
“We disagree with the draft’s provisions and suggest that they respect rights, religious freedom and private ownership,” he said.
Many churches in Ho Chi Minh City have posted the bishops’ proposal on parish boards, shown it on big screens during weekend Mass and distributed information by hand.
“It is a convenient time for Catholics to express their political views to the government in the process of radical political reform for a democratic, humane and justice society,” said a priest who declined to be named.
At the end of January, leading members of the Church in Vietnam along with current and former military and party officials established an online petition which called for reforms including multi-party elections. Support has grown with about 10,000 signees.
Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong responded in late February by saying that some suggestions showed “the decline of politics, thoughts and morality” in Vietnam.
Draft changes to the constitution are scheduled to be enacted in October.
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