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Cablegate: Big Brother Packs the Vote: National Assembly Elections In

VZCZCXRO2546
PP RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0548/01 1421003
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221003Z MAY 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2646
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 1912
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 2845

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000548

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI PINR VM
SUBJECT: BIG BROTHER PACKS THE VOTE: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS IN
HCMC

REF: HANOI 921

HO CHI MIN 00000548 001.2 OF 002


Summary

-------

1. (SBU) HCMC went to the polls on May 20 to select among 52
candidates to fill its 26 National Assembly seats in a tightly
controlled and scripted process. Despite the pre-election media
push in HCMC for "independent" candidates, of the 137
self-nominees that registered as independent candidates with the
HCMC Election Board, only seven survived the Party's screening
process. In ConGen's election monitoring of eight polling
stations, there was little apparent enthusiasm among the voters;
proxy voting was common. Local election officials hinted at
intense pressure to ensure near universal voter turnout. Final
results will be announced after June 4. End Summary.

Centralized Democracy in Action

-------------------------------

2. (SBU) On the morning of May 20, HCMC PolOffs visited eight
HCMC polling stations to observe how the city managed voting for
its 26 National Assembly seats. Our visits were authorized by
the provincial People's Committee and vetted by the HCMC Party's
Internal Protection Committee. A number of plainclothes
Ministry of Public Security (MPS) officers maintained a visible
presence around us. In one instance, some voters were pulled
aside and questioned briefly by police after speaking with us.

3. (SBU) According to local Party organizers, the script for the
elections did not deviate from content and procedures of past
National Assembly elections. Local preparations for the
elections went into high gear at least a month earlier. Ward
and neighborhood organizers held mandatory "education sessions"
with local voters in which they emphasized that voting is
required by law. Local Party workers distributed Party-approved
bios of the approved candidates as well as similar,
Party-cleared candidate "action plans." In the week before the
vote, police-escorted floats paraded slowly through town
exhorting the electorate to vote. The day before the vote,
election workers went house-to-house to distribute "voting
admittance chits" to every registered voter, which the voters
then exchanged for a ballot. The chit, stamped by an election
official after voting, served as proof that the individual had
voted.

4. (SBU) On the day of the vote, each of HCMC's roughly 3,000
balloting stations set up along standardized, Party-approved
lines. The centerpiece was an incense-shrouded picture of a
benevolent Ho Chi Minh under which was placed the ballot box.
Traditional patriotic music -- as well as a new election ditty
-- beat away at volumes that drowned out the surrounding
traffic.

5. (SBU) The ballots were printed on plain paper with no
security features to prevent duplication. Voters were
instructed to cross out all but three of the five or six
candidates on the ballot. The top three vote-getters from each
electoral district would be elected to the National Assembly.
Write-in ballots were illegal and would be rejected, election
administrators to us. After the polls closed, local election
workers would immediately count the votes, in the presence of
three "citizen observers." Election officials told us that
candidates or candidates' representatives would have to receive
special permission if they wanted to observe the ballot
counting.

6. (SBU) Although 60 percent of HCMC's population is under
35-years old, virtually all the voters we saw were middle-aged
or the elderly. While balloting station administrators told us
that proxy voting was illegal, it appeared to be common
practice. There was little apparent enthusiasm among the
voters; a "let's get it over with" mood appeared to predominate.

HO CHI MIN 00000548 002.2 OF 002


7. (SBU) Local election officials hinted at intense pressure to
ensure near universal voter turnout. When asked what the
minimum acceptable voter turnout might be, one official told us
"100 percent is the safest." Most polling stations we visited
claimed that they had up to 70 percent voter turnout by 10 a.m.;
an impromptu visit to another balloting station not on the HCMC
government's approved list showed a 16 percent turnout.
Election workers told us that they would send ballot boxes
door-to-door or announce on the neighborhood PA system the names
of tardy voters after lunch time to get out the vote. (Comment:
The unstated message was clear: those few that did not vote
were bucking the system, an act of disobedience that would be
noted by the system. End Comment.) HCMC media reported a
turnout of nearly 99 percent across the city.

8. (SBU) Voter awareness appeared to be low. All the candidates
were described as "talented" and "deserving." However, there
was no opportunity for the average citizen to meet the
candidates or to learn more about their platforms. Attendance
at a district-level "meet the candidates" event was by
invitation only. Candidates were not allowed to carry out any
independent campaigning or to issue any supplementary election
materials to distribute to voters. The voters we spoke with
repeated the Party slogan that "to vote is the right and
obligation of the citizen," but could not or would not
articulate how their National Assembly delegates were supposed
to help them or their immediate communities.

No Independent Candidates

-------------------------

9. (SBU) Despite the pre-election media hoopla surrounding a
supposed Party "push" for independent candidates, voters had
little variety to choose from. Of the 137 self-nominated that
registered officially as independent candidates with the HCMC
Election Board, only seven survived the Party's screening
process (of a total of 30 nationwide). These included the head
of the Marxist-Leninism faculty at a private university, two
members of Fatherland Front affiliates, a businessman from a
firm linked to the military and the son of former Party
Secretary Le Duan. One ConGen contact who ran as an independent

SIPDIS
told us that he was pressed directly by senior Fatherland Front
representatives to withdraw. When he refused, Ministry of
Public Security Officials ensured that he lost the mandatory
"confidence votes" at his workplace and in his neighborhood.
HCMC press reported that 27 self-nominees in HCMC withdrew their
applications due to "pressing family circumstances". Another 45
self-nominees did not receive the required 50 percent confidence
vote in neighborhood polling. In contrast, all official
nominees reportedly scored between 90 and 100 percent in
confidence votes in their neighborhoods and workplaces.

Comment

-------

10. (SBU) The tight control of the entire election process
highlights the strong grassroots reach of the Party even in
relatively open HCMC. According to the HCMC Election
Commission, the results of the election will be announced
officially on June 4. Although the process was tightly
scripted, the results may still shed some light on the mood and
direction of the Party. For example, will the Party allow
younger, more open and more business-oriented candidates -- such
as Dong Thanh Tam, an influential Industrial Zone developer --
to win or will more ideologically conservative candidates
prevail? End Comment.
WINNICK

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