Cablegate: Implementing Grassroots Democracy: The View From
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0159/01 0450414
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140414Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7158
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4281
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000159
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KCOR ECON KPAO SOCI PREL VM
SUBJECT: IMPLEMENTING GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY: THE VIEW FROM
Ref: 07 HANOI 1088
HANOI 00000159 001.2 OF 002
1. (SBU) Summary: The Government of Vietnam's (GVN) Ordinance on
Grassroots Democracy (OGD), which took effect last April, is a small
step towards participatory local government within the context of
the GVN's top-down, centrally controlled government structure. In a
recent visit to provinces in Vietnam's remote and poor northwest,
Poloff found local government and Party officials generally
enthusiastic about the new ordinance as well as a Ministry of Home
Affairs pilot program in which people in some 500 communes would
come up with their own candidates for election to local leadership
positions. Commune officials said that they now hold meetings from
one to three times per month with the people and "their
representatives" to go over local economic development project
proposals, and leaders from all the communes Poloff visited said
they had organized at least one no confidence vote over the past
year, with at least one commune Party official forced to resign as a
result. Support for local legal aid centers and other good
governance projects aimed at educating the people of these and other
outlying areas about their rights under the OGD would not only
increase citizen's ability to actively participate in the political
process but would likely be palatable to the GVN as well. End
Democracy From Above: View From Northwest
2. (SBU) The Communist Party, government and legislature (the
National Assembly) have organizational structures that flow from the
center to the outlying areas. For example, the Party and its six
mass organizations have provincial, district and commune level
governing structures. Increasing citizen input at the local level
within this context, Hanoi's Ordinance on Grassroots Democracy (OGD)
came into effect last April and replaced a 2003 decree on the same
topic (Ref. A). The OGD states that villagers can participate in
meetings to discuss and propose solutions to local problems.
Representatives of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Party's
umbrella organization for any and all groups in Vietnam, organize
and monitor these meetings, however.
3. (SBU) From January 29 to February 1, Poloff discussed
implementation of this ordinance with a wide variety of district and
commune Party officials in northwestern Dien Bien, Lai Chau and Lao
Cai provinces - some of Vietnam's poorest and most remote areas,
with significant ethnic minority populations. District Party
officials in Dien Bien and Lao Cai told Poloff that they
participated in briefings on the OGD at the provincial level soon
after the central government promulgated the ordinance. These
officials then convened meetings with commune leaders to go over OGD
contents. These commune officials were in turn responsible for
educating villagers about their rights under the OGD. However, "not
every villager" came to these information sessions. One district
Party official in Lao Cai admitted that many ethnic minority people
living in mountainous areas in his district had "limited knowledge"
of their rights under the OGD.
4. (SBU) Commune officials across the three provinces said that, in
keeping with the OGD, they hold meetings from one to three times per
month with the people and "their representatives" (in most cases,
local leaders of the Party's mass organizations) to review economic
development project proposals. Money for these projects mostly
comes from the central government budget because generating revenue
locally is difficult, commune officials explained. A Party official
in Lao Cai asserted that people in his district know "full well"
about the budget for schools and roads. Deciding on which projects
to forge ahead with usually was done by consensus. One official
asserted that his commune in Dien Bien had never experienced
contentious debates about what projects to undertake.
No Confidence Votes: One Official Ousted
5. (SBU) According to the OGD, villagers have the right to not only
take issue with local administrative decisions, but to propose "no
confidence" votes on local Party leaders as well. Commune Party
authorities also are required under the OGD to organize one
confidence vote on local leaders per year. All communes Poloff
visited had carried out the latter kind of vote, with Party
officials instructing villagers to come to Party facilities to vote.
Two officials (from separate communes) told Poloff that results of
the most recent confidence votes showed that over 90 percent voted
to retain officials in their positions. In one Dien Bien commune,
however, the people voted against a Party official continuing in his
position because of a "lack of professionalism and qualifications."
The Party forced this official to resign.
Communes to Decide on Own Candidates?
HANOI 00000159 002.2 OF 002
6. (SBU) Le Tu Duyen, Director of the Ministry of Home Affairs'
Local Affairs Department, told Poloff in Hanoi that his office has
put forth a proposal for people in some 500 communes across the
country to come up with their own candidates for commune leadership
positions. (Note: Currently, the Party's VFF comes up with the list
of candidates "in consultation with the people." End Note).
According to Duyen, his pilot program idea, which would be
implemented over a two year period (2008-09), has gone "to higher
levels" for consideration. If approved, the program would commence
later this year in some communes, then be expanded gradually to 500
communes. Duyen said the Party has not yet selected the 500
communes that would participate. In 2010, the GVN would evaluate
the program to see if it could be applied in every commune in
7. (SBU) Some district and commune officials in the three provinces
said they were unaware of pilot program details. All welcomed the
idea, however. Two officials said that it would be a great "honor"
to be selected by the people as a candidate for local leadership.
They cautioned, however, that candidates should have the right
qualifications and be of "high moral standing."
Comment: Small But Significant Step for "Democracy"
8. (SBU) The GVN's OGD is a small but significant step towards
participatory local government within the context of the GVN's
top-down, centrally controlled government structure. Of course,
when used by the GVN and the Party, "democracy" does not mean the
ability of people to freely choose their leaders or representatives
but rather central and local accountability to the people. The GVN
and Party began to undertake steps in the late 1990's to improve
local governance after protests, some of which turned violent, broke
out over corrupt land deals.
9. (SBU) We rarely hear about villagers from Dien Bien, Lai Chau and
Lao Cai provinces demonstrating over, or coming to Hanoi to protest
about, corrupt land deals in their communes. While this is perhaps
due to low in-migration and low stress on local land and services,
more likely many people in these isolated provinces are largely
preoccupied with more basic issues like food and shelter, with
little time for learning about "grassroots democracy." Support for
local legal aid centers and other good governance projects aimed at
educating the people of these and other outlying areas about their
rights under the OGD would not only increase citizen's ability to
actively participate in the political process but would likely be
palatable to the GVN as well.