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The voices of dissent grow louder

Is Vietnam heading for an Arab Spring-style revolt?

The voices of dissent grow louder
Emmaus Traveler,Ho Chi Minh City

January 25, 2013

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Earlier this month, the famous singer and actress Kim Chi turned down an award from the Vietnam Cinema Association.

Kim Chi, who spent 10 years singing for communist soldiers in forests, told the association that she wanted nothing to do with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung who would have signed the award certificate.

“I do not want to have the man’s signature in my house,” she wrote in a letter that received widespread internet exposure. “He has led the country to poverty and caused people’s suffering.”

Later she told BBC that “as a citizen, I have a right to like or dislike. I personally dislike him so I do not want to receive an award from him.”

She added that she “respects leaders who bring prosperity and happiness to the nation.”

She is one of the few people, perhaps the first, who has publicly expressed her political views in this communist country in recent years.

Dissatisfaction with the government is widespread but decades of war and fighting have sapped people's desire for confrontation.

Most people do not want to get into trouble by expressing their opinions publicly, for fear of retribution from the government which demonstrates no tolerance for dissent of any kind.

But in their hearts, no one is happy.

The key solution to this problem is a constitution, voted in by the people themselves, so they are the ones who have the final say on it.

Beginning this month and running through March, the government is indeed holding a public referendum on draft amendments to the constitution. But its proposed draft stipulates that the Communist Party of Vietnam controls the state and society. Intellectuals and dissidents say this provision violates human and civil rights and the rule of law.

It negates the people’s power to select a ruling party through free and democratic elections and denies their power over other sectors of social life as well.

The provision also means only Communist Party members have the right to run for positions in state agencies. Most of the 500-seat national assembly are party members. So the opportunities are limited to around three million party members among a population of 86 million.

This is against the principle of equality before the law. All citizens, regardless of their race, gender, languages, political views and religion should have the right to be candidates for political positions.

It is simply absurd for party members to draft and approve a constitution and then say the constitution is of the people.

Ironically, since the 1980 constitution handed all control to the party, it has not grown stronger but gone into decline, both in moral standards and management ability.

This week, President Truong Tan Sang admitted that people’s trust in the party has been considerably reduced by corruption and waste of national resources. Many high-ranking officials now fear an Arab Spring-style revolution.

Before that happens, the party must abandon its totalitarianism and allow a multi-party democratic system. Then it will have a dynamic that will enable it to correct its weaknesses. 

Emmaus Traveler is the pen name of a Church commentator based in Ho Chi Minh City

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