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Professor Carlyle A. Thayer
On 19 May Vietnamese voters went to the polls for the third time since 1992 to elect deputies to the National Assembly, Vietnam's highest organ of state power. Under the terms of the reformist 1992 Electoral Law every seat must be contested and independent candidates can nominate themselves outside of the party-controlled selection process.
Vietnam's new candidateselection process places a high premium on formal qualifications and ethical probity. A record 762 candidates were certified as eligible to run, including 13 independents. On the eve of the elections, Vietnam's 'festival of democracy' was marred when three candidates were disqualified for corruption. The National Assembly Standing Committee then took the unprecedented step of reducing the number of deputies to be elected from 500 to 498 in order to ensure that all seats were contested.
One of the disqualified candidates was Tran Mai Hanh, head of Voice of Vietnam Radio, secretary-general of the Vietnam Journalists' Association and, more importantly, a member of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) Central Committee. Hanh was found guilty of associating with mobster Nam Cam and using his influence 'to have court charges brought against [Nam Cam] dropped'. On 15 July, the VCP Central Committee's sixth plenum expelled Hanh from its ranks along with another member who was also associated with Nam Cam. The sixth plenum also recommended that the first session of the National Assembly (11th legislature) approve a major ministerial reshuffle.
One of the major intentions of party reformers is to transform Vietnam into a law-governed state by enhancing the role of the National Assembly and improving the efficiency of its legislative output. The outgoing tenth legislature left an enormous backlog of legislation that must be passed if Vietnam is to successfully make this transition. The 1992 Electoral Law was amended to include a provision requiring that one-quarter of the deputies must serve on a full-time basis on National Assembly committees based in Hanoi.
The incoming deputies to the eleventh legislature face the daunting task of clearing up this legislative backlog and regularizing Vietnam's laws to bring them in compliance with provisions of the Bilateral Trade Agreement signed with the United States. Unless the National Assembly takes prompt action Vietnam's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization may be delayed.
At the opening session of the National Assembly, party Secretary General Nong Duc Manh delivered a hard-hitting speech in which he urged a step up in the campaign against corruption. Manh argued that any individual found guilty, no matter how high his/her rank, should be punished. A review of the credentials of all incoming members was also ordered in light of public complaints against ninety deputies during the election campaign.
WATCHPOINT: Expect a major government leadership reshuffle involving up to seven or more ministers, a reduction in the number of ministries, and a continuation of the anti-corruption campaign with a focus on party and state leaders. A thorough-going anti-corruption campaign could disrupt Vietnam's legislative process and spark party in-fighting.
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