Independent candidates attempting to challenge the Communist party in legislative elections say the authorities have stepped up obstruction and harassment as the deadline for registration approaches.
Some say their efforts to put their names forward for the election on May 20 have been blocked by uncooperative local officials. Others have been vilified in state run media, summoned for questioning by police or photographed by police agents during their attempts to register.
Some 20 pro-democracy activists have announced their intention to stand in the National Assembly election, saying they want to test the Communist party’s claim that Vietnam practices a high degree of democracy.
Most hold out little hope of securing a seat on the legislative body because of a rigorous vetting system controlled by the Communist party. The deadline for nominations is March 13. In the past only a small number of carefully selected independent candidates have been allowed.
The man who inspired many of the independents to make a stand, the former Communist party member and IT entrepreneur, Dr Nguyen Quang A, has been persistently attacked in the state run media.
Pro-communist activists, known as Du Luan Vien (public opinion shapers), have made a number of visits to his neighbourhood to talk to local people.
They produced and broadcast interviews with people who identified themselves as his neighbours. They described the prospective candidate as a bad man who was unqualified to sit in the National Assembly.
One newspaper, the Petro Times, whose editor is a former police colonel, has focused on disparaging other independent candidates, particularly Nguyen Cong Vuong, a performer of traditional folk music.
An article described him as a clown “thirsty for fame”. It said the legislature could never be a stage for his form of low comedy.
In a more sinister turn, it also suggested that he had links with the Viet Tan, an exiled political party that is described by the Communist party as a “terrorist organisation”.
Major stumbling block
Other independents say they have noticed police prowling around their homes, apparently looking for information.
The registration process is proving a major obstacle.
Prospective candidates are required to register at a local branch of the Fatherland Front, an organisation controlled by the Communist party.
But first they have to submit personal information that must be endorsed by the local People’s Committee. This is proving the major stumbling block.
Some say that every time they go to the required office they are told that all the officials are “in a meeting”.
Others said their personal dossiers were returned with comments describing them as “bad citizens” and therefore not eligible for public office.
One independent, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, 64, had his dossier returned with the following disparaging comments contributed by the vice-chairman of the People’s Committee: “Mr. Thuy has said and written many things against the party and the state’s policies,” it said.
Another candidate, Nguyen Dinh Ha, 28, was described by the vice-chairwoman in his area as “a bad citizen who has travelled to America to testify before its congress on freedom of the press in Vietnam, and who in recent years joined 12 unlawful gatherings, inciting public disorder.”
Some candidates said there had been tense encounters when they arrived at city offices to find the police there with video cameras to capture them on film.
If any of the activists do manage to get through to the second round of vetting, the process could become even more challenging.
At that stage the Fatherland Front will call on local people, and Communist party loyalists, to give their assessments of the candidates in public forums.
A widely-known human rights activist and lawyer in central Vietnam, Vo An Don, said he had received a police summons, requesting him to go to the local branch of the public security ministry to be questioned about posts on his Facebook page.
He has tried to stand for election before, but failed when he was rejected by the Fatherland Front.
The Standing Committee of the National Assembly confirmed in January that the 14th National Assembly will have 500 deputies chosen from 896 candidates. It said only 25-50 non-communist candidates would be able to stand for the election.