Mon, May 23, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Vietnamese vote in one-party election

COMMUNIST ELECTION:Voters are electing delegates to the National Assembly, which has become increasingly assertive, last year rejecting plans for high-speed rail

Reuters, HANOI

Vietnam held parliamentary elections yesterday in a vote designed to maintain the Vietnamese Communist Party’s grip on power, but unlikely to roll back the National Assembly’s more active role in shaping policy.

Hanoians trickled into polling stations across a sunny city festooned in red banners imploring citizens to do their patriotic duty and vote.

Billboards depicted proud workers casting ballots and propaganda loudspeakers on telephone polls blared syrupy patriotic music.

Voters will pick up to 500 delegates from 827 candidates nationwide in the election, which is normally held every five years. About 90 percent of delegates are expected to be Communist Party members and the rest are independents.

The results are expected within about a week.

The party touts the election as a display of democracy, but gerrymandering and careful candidate vetting ensure there are few surprises.

The parliament is expected to meet in July to pick a new government, although Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is widely expected to retain his post.

“I hope the newly elected representatives will bring new reforms and changes, with fresh ideas to make our society a better one,” Hanoi University student Nguyen Xuan Dung said.

After casting his ballot, -Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong said that the country faced many challenges, including in the economy, and noted that “hostile forces” — a reference usually to groups and individuals perceived to be anti-Communist — were still plotting to sabotage the nation.

“But as is our tradition we will surely overcome all of these challenges and unite as one to build a stronger nation,” he said.

The number of independent candidates allowed to stand is lower than the last election, in 2007.

The candidate-to-seat ratio is also slightly smaller, perhaps reflecting worries among the leadership that revolts in the Middle East may serve as an inspiration to critics at home, said Edmund Malesky, a professor at the University of California San Diego who studies Vietnam’s parliament.

Still, the level of professionalism of the candidates has been on the rise, he said.

“I don’t believe that this is nascent democracy. This is the logic of a particular regime that benefits in particular ways from having a more talented group of delegates in there,” he said.

In theory, the assembly is the pinnacle of state power, but in practice it is usually a rubber stamp for Vietnam’s elite Communist Politburo.

There are signs, however, of subtle change, and analysts say the National Assembly’s growing role in policy debates may be difficult to reverse.

Last year, the unicameral chamber was unusually assertive, rejecting a government-approved plan to build a US$56 billion high-speed train running the length of the narrow country.

One member also called for the first-ever no-confidence vote in a prime minister over criticism of government economic policies and the near collapse of indebted state shipbuilder Vinashin. The call was rejected.

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