Dissident in open challenge to party control

Activist La Viet Dung (right edge) and Dr. Nguyen Quang A take their message to the streets in an anti-China protest

Activist La Viet Dung (right edge) and Dr. Nguyen Quang A take their message to the streets during an anti-China protest

One of Vietnam’s most respected and influential dissidents is launching a campaign for election to the National Assembly in a direct challenge to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Dr Nguyen Quang A, a former party member and army officer, said he wanted to test the new leadership’s contention that Vietnam is “an extremely democratic country”.

Nominations for the legislative elections, to be held in May, are controlled by the party and its proxies, including the Vietnamese Fatherland Front.

“I want to transform fake rights into true rights,” said the 70-year-old intellectual, who has campaigned for human rights and a democratic transformation in Vietnam.

Many obstacles

Dr A’s age and contacts at high levels in the Communist Party have protected him from much of the harassment, violence and legal sanctions suffered by other government critics.

He has used social media to spread his message to supporters and sympathisers across the country, and intends to do the same to build momentum for his campaign.

In an open letter published on his Facebook page, Dr. A called on other independents to stand for the election. He said a response was needed to the declaration by the recently reappointed Communist Party boss, Nguyen Phu Trong, that Vietnamese people had democratic freedoms.

Dr. Nguyen Quang A is a prominent campaigner for democratic change Photo by Trinh Huu Long

Dr. Nguyen Quang A is a prominent campaigner for democratic change Photo by Trinh Huu Long

He made clear that they would face many obstacles given the Communist Party’s control of the nomination process.

The National Assembly, on paper at least, plays an important constitutional role; electing the state president, and approving nominees for premier and government ministers.

It is, however, seen as a rubber stamp body designed merely to confer some legitimacy on the Communist Party’s grip on power.

The Fatherland Front is responsible for vetting candidates’ profiles before their names can go forward.

Show of support

Even if independents do somehow get an initial nomination they are then subjected to a more gruelling selection process known as Hiep Thuong, or public denunciation.

They can be confronted with criticism and abuse from loyal Communist Party affiliates at what are called “grass roots democratic meetings”.

Dr. A said he would try to fight back at these meetings by collecting some 5,000 signatures of support so he could explain who he represents.

He called on young activists to back him in the campaign.

Hundreds have already sent him their signature and photos of their ID saying, “We support Dr. Nguyen Quang A to represent us in the National Assembly.”

A number of other activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City told Vietnam Right Now that they were also considering running for a seat.

“I don’t believe those deputies in the current National Assembly are more qualified than any of us to hold office,” said La Viet Dung, a civil construction engineer and human rights activist in Hanoi.

The Communist Party has traditionally nominated a small number of candidates who are labelled as independents to sit in the assembly.

They amount, however, to less than five per cent of the total, and their true independence has always been open to question.