Vietnam has stepped up experimental political reforms in the lead-up to a major meeting of the Communist Party next year, possibly paving the way for more accountability among the leadership.
Analysts caution that the changes do not mean the party intends to give up its monopoly on power, as enshrined in the Constitution, and critics are likely to see them as cosmetic.
However, a pilot program that changes the way some party leaders are picked could lead to more direct democratic processes across the board, which may accelerate a generational transition.
Vietnam’s third-biggest city, Danang, reported yesterday that its local party congress had directly elected the municipal party chief for the first time.
In the past, leaders were elected in two steps: First, the congress, which meets once every five years, would select an executive committee, and then that committee would pick a leader.
By giving the party congress the vote instead of the executive committee, the number of electors appears to have been expanded about six times to about 300.
That may seem trivial for a city of roughly 1 million people, but analysts say it is a significant step for a reform that has been tested at lower levels.
“Danang is one of Vietnam’s major cities and this adds importance to this experiment,” said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “Vietnam is gradually experimenting with greater internal party democracy and the direct election of party leaders. This has implications for national politics in future.”
Danang is one of 10 provinces and cities involved in the direct elections pilot, which has already taken place in some 1,400 grassroots party branches and more than 200 districts, the newspaper Tuoi Tre reported.
The reforms look set for the national stage. The party’s leading Politburo had already ordered the preparation of a plan for the direct election of the general secretary at the national congress scheduled for January, Tuoi Tre quoted a senior party member as saying earlier this month.
Such a reform could spill over into the direct election of the state president by the National Assembly and open the door for younger candidates to advance, Thayer said. The current Politburo are all in their 60s and one is 70.
Meanwhile, openness on the political front still seems quite distant. Vietnam last month arrested a French blogger for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government by posting anti-communist articles.
The state-run People’s Police newspaper reported yesterday that Pham Minh Hoang was accused of violating a national security law for allegedly distorting government policies and being a member of Viet Tan, a group Vietnam considers a terrorist organization.
The Vietnam-born French math lecturer was detained on Aug. 13.
Viet Tan, which maintains it is a nonviolent organization that promotes democracy, said the government used state-run media to convict Hoang.