Mon, May 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Vietnamese vote for new assembly

BROADER Vietnam says it wants to increase public participation in the national assembly, but about 90 percent of seats are sure to go to the Communist Party

AFP , HANOI

Communist Youth members ride motorcycles with red flags to campaign for the elections of the new national assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam, yesterday. Vietnamese yesterday voted for a new national assembly that will bring new faces to the legislature while maintaining the Communist Party's grip on power.

PHOTO: AFP

Vietnamese yesterday voted for a new national assembly in a five-yearly election that will bring new faces to the legislature while maintaining the Communist Party's grip on power.

More than 50 million eligible voters out of Vietnam's 84 million people were due to elect 500 new deputies from a field of 875 hopefuls -- including 150 who are not members of the ruling party and 30 self-nominated candidates.

Vietnam has said it wants to broaden public participation in the assembly, but ultimately about 90 percent of seats are guaranteed to go to the party, whose affiliate the Fatherland Front also screened all other candidates.

Final results are expected within seven to 10 days after voting.

Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh was among the first to cast his ballot, in Hanoi's government district of Ba Dinh, as propaganda messages starting at 6am urged people to come out quickly and vote as required by law.

"Go to the polls and express the will and the aspirations of the people," said a typical loudspeaker message echoing through the streets of the capital.

"Electing a new and good national assembly serves our cause of industrialization and modernization of the country because deputies will be the bridge between the national assembly and the people," the message said.

The legislature has changed in recent years from being a purely rubber-stamp body into a debating forum that has occasionally grilled top officials in sessions broadcast on national television.

Deputies have complained loudly of corruption and passed laws that bring the country in line with the rules of the WTO, which Vietnam, a low-income but rapidly growing economy, joined early this year.

Manh said the 12th assembly's task would be to push forward reforms with the aim of "bringing Vietnam out of the list of less developed countries by 2010 and becoming a modern industrialized country by 2020."

Vietnamese leaders have made clear that they will tolerate no open challenge to the sole rule of the party which has dominated public life in unified Vietnam since the end of the "American War" in 1975.

In recent months, Vietnam has tried and jailed several political dissidents who had urged an election boycott or called for a multi-party political system, triggering protests from the US and the EU.

In yesterday's election, no controversial candidates were likely to be elected as all of them had to gain the support of their workplaces and neighborhoods, which have their own party cells, as well as the Fatherland Front.

Meanwhile, women, ethnic minorities and key institutions such as the police, army and farmers' unions were all guaranteed blocks of seats in advance.

Vietnam specialist Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy said that although more non-party members and self-nominated candidates were running than in the past, the elections "remain a highly contrived affair."

"Central authorities determine in advance the ideal structure and composition of the National Assembly," he said.

In the run-up to the poll, the leadership urged citizens to hoist the national flag. Yesterday, public loud-speakers started playing patriotic songs at dawn, also hailing late revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Official turnout was expected to top 90 percent, as in the 2002 vote.

In an election where there is no doubt about which party will win, the contest is often between wards who compete to be first to finish voting.

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