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Cablegate: The Constitutional Amendment Process: What's Up?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

150121Z Nov 01

2001HANOI02980 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ6878

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------------------3E5AC8 150124Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4682
INFO AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
NSC WASHDC
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 HANOI 002980

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV

SECDEF FOR ABLAGG

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON VM DPOL
SUBJECT: THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCESS: WHAT'S UP?

REF: A. HANOI 2885 B. HANOI 2914

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE 1992 SRV
CONSTITUTION REPRESENT ATTEMPTS TO ENABLE GREATER
PARTICIPATION IN ECONOMIC LIFE AND TO ADJUST THE ROLES OF
VARIOUS PARTS OF GOVERNMENT, WITH POSSIBLE MORE POWER TO THE
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (NA). EXPECTED APPROVAL OF AT LEAST SOME
AMENDMENTS BY THE NA DURING ITS NOVEMBER/DECEMBER SESSION
WILL MARK THE NEXT PHASE OF AN ALREADY LENGTHY PROCESS OF
SEEKING PUBLIC INPUT AND REACTION. WHILE THE SRV TOUTS THIS
AS AN EXERCISE IN DEMOCRACY, IT IS ONE FIRMLY TIED TO THE
IDEA OF "DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM" IN A ONE PARTY STATE.
INDEED, THE CPV SEEMS TO BE TRUNCATING THE PROCESS AFTER
SOME NA MEMBERS AND CITIZENS APPARENTLY BEGAN TO CALL FOR
MORE COMPREHENSIVE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. SEPTEL WILL
PROVIDE AN OVERVIEW OF THE UPCOMING NA SESSION AND
IMPLICATIONS OF LIKELY OUTCOMES. END SUMMARY.

WHY CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION?
----------------------------

2. (U) THE OFFICIAL JUSTIFICATION FOR AMENDING THE
CONSTITUTION IS TO "STREAMLINE AND IMPROVE THE EFFICIENCY OF
THE STATE APPARATUS (NOTE: I.E., ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM, END
NOTE) AND ADDRESS URGENT ECONOMIC, CULTURAL, EDUCATIONAL,
SCIENTIFIC, AND TECHNOLOGICAL ISSUES." THE NINTH NATIONAL
COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS FORMALLY IDENTIFIED THESE ISSUES
EARLIER THIS YEAR, BUT SEVERAL AMENDMENTS REPORTEDLY HAD
BEEN UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. THE CENTRAL
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PAGE 03 HANOI 02980 01 OF 05 150123Z
COMMITTEE REAFFIRMED THE CPV'S VIEW OF THE AMENDMENTS IN AN
ANNOUNCEMENT AT THE CONCLUSION OF ITS FOURTH PLENUM ON
NOVEMBER 13, STRESSING THAT "ONLY ISSUES CONSIDERED TO BE
URGENT AND UNANIMOUSLY AGREED UPON WILL BE AMENDED AND
SUPPLEMENTED."

3. (SBU) THE AMENDMENT PROCESS ITSELF (SEE PARAS 19-22 FOR
DESCRIPTION) REPORTEDLY GENERATED OVER TEN THOUSAND PUBLIC
COMMENTS. AMONG THEM WERE CALLS FROM NA MEMBERS AND OTHERS
FOR COMPREHENSIVE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. SOME COMMENTS,
ACCORDING TO TRAN NHUNG, AN EDITOR OF THE PEOPLE'S ARMY
NEWSPAPER WHO SPOKE WITH POLOFF ON OCTOBER 17, WERE SHARPLY
CRITICAL, EVEN CLAIMING THAT THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS WERE "A
STEP BACKWARD FROM THE 1946 CONSTITUTION." ONE PURPOSE OF
THE AMENDMENTS AND OF THE AMENDMENT PROCESS ITSELF IS TO
ALLOW THE SRV TO DEMONSTRATE THAT IT CAN MANAGE "DEMOCRACY"
IN A ONE PARTY STATE, ACCORDING TO CHRISTINE JOHANSSON, A
SWEDISH DIPLOMAT WITH WHOM POLOFF SPOKE ON OCTOBER 31. THE
AMENDMENT PROCESS, SHE SAID, SERVES AS A WAY TO RE-LINK THE
PARTY WITH "THE PEOPLE." JOHANSSON ALSO SUPERVISES A
SWEDISH ODA PROJECT TO HELP THE NA IMPROVE ITS OWN
SUPERVISORY FUNCTIONS.

4. (U) OVER THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS, MANY OBSERVERS HAD
PREDICTED THAT THE UPCOMING SESSION OF THE TENTH NA WOULD
DISCUSS -- BUT NOT RATIFY -- THE AMENDMENTS. ACCORDING TO
THEIR ANALYSES, THE NEW NA TO BE ELECTED IN MID-2002 WOULD
FORMALLY ADOPT THE AMENDMENTS. HOWEVER, ON NOVEMBER 13,
NGO ANH DUNG, VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE NA FOREIGN AFFAIRS
COMMITTEE, IN A MEETING WITH POL/C AND POLOFF, CLAIMED THAT
THE NA'S AD HHOC STEERING COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTIONAL
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AMENDMENTS (CHAIRED BY NGUYEN VAN AN, CONCURRENTLY POLITBURO
MEMBER, NA CHAIRMAN, AND NA STANDING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN) HAD
REACHED CONSENSUS WITH NA DELEGATES ON FOCUSING ONLY ON
URGENT ISSUES THAT NEEDED UPDATING FROM THE 1992
CONSTITUTION. HIS REMARKS REFLECTED THE LANGUAGE SIMILAR
USED IN THAT DAY'S CENTRAL COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING
ITS VIEWS ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. DUNG NOTED THAT THE
AMENDMENT PROCESS COULD CONTINUE NEXT YEAR OR OVER SEVERAL
YEARS, BUT THAT, LIKE THE MUCH OLDER US CONSTITUTION, TOO
MANY AMENDMENTS WERE PROBABLY NOT NECESSARY.

PAST CHANGES
------------

5. (SBU) SOME OBSERVERS HAVE NOTED A PATTERN OF AMENDING
THE CONSTITUTION ROUGHLY EVERY TEN YEARS. TRAN NHUNG, OF
THE PEOPLE'S ARMY NEWSPAPER, AND HISTORIAN HUU NGOC, IN A
SEPARATE CONVERSATION WITH POLOFF ON OCTOBER 19, EMPHASIZED
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF EACH CONSTITUTION CHANGE. BOTH
SAID THAT THE 1959 CONSTITUTION HAD REFLECTED LESSONS
LEARNED BY AUTHORITIES MORE USED TO FIGHTING A WAR THAN
RUNNING A COUNTRY. THAT LONG AND DETAILED SOVIET-STYLE
CONSTITUTION WAS BOTH DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT AND TO CHANGE,
ACCORDING TO NGUYEN SI DUNG, DIRECTOR THE NA'S CENTER FOR
INFORMATION, LIBRARY, AND RESEARCH SERVICES, WHO MET WITH
POLOFF ON OCTOBER 5. EACH SUBSEQUENT CONSTITUTION HAS BEEN
AN EVOLUTION OF THE 1959 DOCUMENT, HE CLAIMED.

6. (SBU) HISTORIAN NGOC RECALLED THAT THEN-HOSTILE
RELATIONS WITH CHINA STIMULATED THE 1980 CONSTITUTION'S ANTI-
CHINESE PREAMBLE LANGUAGE. NGOC AND NHUNG IDENTIFIED THE
EARLY PHASES OF "DOI MOI" WITH THE 1992 CONSTITUTION. HUU
NGOC SAID THAT THE 1992 VERSION CAME AT A TIME WHEN VIETNAM
WAS TRYING TO COME OUT OF A LONG ECONOMIC CRISIS AND
REPRESENTED VIETNAM'S ATTEMPT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CATCH UP
WITH ITS NEIGHBORS. WHILE HE SAID THAT THE 1992 AMENDMENTS
TO THE CONSTITUTION FOCUSED ON THE STATE'S ECONOMIC SYSTEM,
HE BLAMED NATURAL DISASTERS AND FOREIGN INVASIONS, RATHER
THAN THE PREVIOUS SYSTEM ITSELF, FOR VIETNAM'S EARLIER
ECONOMIC WOES.

WHY THESE CHANGES?
------------------

7. (SBU) NGO BA THANH, A NON-PARTY NA MEMBER ON THE AD HOC
STANDING COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS WHO SERVED
AS WELL ON THE 1980 AND 1992 AMENDMENT COMMITTEES AND WHO
MET WITH POL/C AND POLOFF ON OCTOBER 11, STRESSED THAT NEW
AMENDMENTS WERE NEEDED TO "IMPROVE THE TRANSPARENCY AND
EFFICIENCY IN THE STATE APPARATUS" IN ORDER TO BUILD THE
NATION. EDITOR TRAN NHUNG HIGHLIGHTED THE NEED NOWADAYS FOR
MORE AMENDMENTS RELATED TO THE ECONOMY, PARTICULARLY
REGARDING THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MARKET ECONOMY AND
INTEGRATION WITH THE GLOBAL ECONOMY. NHUNG IDENTIFIED AN
OVERALL THEME OF MOVEMENT AWAY FROM A COMMAND ECONOMY, AND
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MORE GENERALLY AWAY FROM "THE STATE COMMANDING AND THE
PEOPLE DOING." INSTEAD, HE SAID, THE STATE MUST
INCREASINGLY "ENCOURAGE" THE PEOPLE TO UNDERTAKE MORE
RESPONSIBILITY AND INITIATIVE. NHUNG LINKED AMENDMENTS ON
FORMS OF OWNERSHIP, EDUCATION, AND THE RULE OF LAW TO THIS
THEME. THESE ARE NEEDED SO THAT VIETNAM CAN OPERATE
EFFECTIVELY IN THE GLOBAL MARKET AND CAN ATTRACT MORE
FOREIGN INVESTORS, HE SAID.

8. (SBU) HUU NGOC HIGHLIGHTED THE VALUE OF PROPOSED
AMENDMENTS IN VIETNAM'S EFFORTS TO BALANCE GLOBALIZATION AND
ECONOMIC EXPANSION WITH PRESERVATION OF ITS CULTURAL AND
SOCIAL IDENTITY. HE CITED AMENDMENTS REGARDING BUILDING A
MORE EFFECTIVE EDUCATION SYSTEM AS THE MOST IMPORTANT, NOT
ONLY TO ENABLE PARTICIPATION IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, BUT ALSO
TO MAINTAIN VIETNAMESE DISTINCTIVENESS. HE SAID THAT "DOI
MOI" HAD ALREADY ENCOURAGED COMPETITION, WHICH HAD BEEN
ABSENT UNDER SOCIALISM. BUT THIS HAD LED TO INDIVIDUALISM
AND MATERIALISM, TRAITS HE CHARACTERIZED AS NEGATIVE AND
"WESTERN" IN OPPOSITION TO TRADITIONAL COLLECTIVE VALUES.
THE NA'S DUNG NOTED THAT THE NATION AND IN PARTICULAR ITS
ECONOMY HAD CHANGED FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF "DOI MOI"
REFLECTED IN THE 1992 CONSTITUTION, AND ADMITTED THAT
SUBSEQUENT PROBLEMS OF CORRUPTION AND BUREAUCRATISM SPARKED
SOME OF THE CURRENT PROPOSED CHANGES.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?
-----------------

9. (SBU) OPINIONS VARY WIDELY OVER WHICH AMENDMENTS ARE
MOST IMPORTANT AND OVER WHAT THEIR POTENTIAL EFFECTS WOULD
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BE. WHILE MOST PROPOSED AMENDMENTS RELATE TO THE
MODIFICATIONS IN THE "STATE APPARATUS," ECONOMIC-RELATED
AMENDMENTS SEEMED HAVE ATTRACTED MORE INTEREST. PROPOSED
RULE OF LAW LANGUAGE ALSO STIMULATED MUCH COMMENT. WITHIN
THE "STATE APPARATUS," THE PROVINCIAL PEOPLE'S COUNCILS, THE
NA, AND THE PRIME MINISTER WOULD ALL APPEAR POTENTIALLY TO
GAIN MORE POWER FROM PROPOSED AMENDMENTS. HUU NGOC SAID
THAT THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS WERE NOT SOMETHING THAT
"THE MASSES OF THE PEOPLE, THE FARMERS," WERE INTERESTED IN,
BUT HAD AT LEAST ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION AND ENGAGEMENT OF
THE MIDDLE STRATA AND INTELLECTUALS. MS. JOHANSSON NOTED
THAT THE DISCUSSION PROCESS HAD GENERATED MUCH PUBLIC
INTEREST AND REVEALED DIFFERENCES OF OPINION AND APPROACH
BETWEEN ACADEMICS AND ORDINARY CITIZENS. PROVINCIAL
OFFICIALS WITH WHOM POL/C MET ON OCTOBER 25-NOVEMBER 2
TRAVELS BETWEEN HO CHI MINH CITY AND HANOI UNIFORMLY CLAIMED
CONSIDERABLE LOCAL INTEREST IN THE AMENDMENT PROCESS, BUT
WERE UNWILLING OR UNABLE TO CITE EXAMPLES OF SPECIFIC
AMENDMENTS OF CONCERN FOR THEIR RESIDENTS (REF B).

10. (SBU) TRAN NHUNG CITED ECONOMIC ACTORS AS THE BIGGEST
BENEFICIARIES OF SOME OF THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS. REFERRING
TO PROPOSED CHANGES TO ARTICLES 16 AND 21 AND TO A LESSER
EXTENT TO ARTICLES 15, 19, AND 24, HE SAID THAT THESE
AMENDMENTS WOULD MEAN THAT NEW CONSTITUTION WOULD RECOGNIZE
"ALL" FORMS OF OWNERSHIP AND ALLOW ALL FORMS TO COMPETE ON
AN EQUAL BASIS. NGUYEN SI DUNG NOTED THE CHANGE FROM "STATE-
RUN ECONOMY" TO "STATE (OR NATIONAL) ECONOMY" IN ARTICLE 16
AS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ECONOMIC AMENDMENT, BECAUSE THIS
WOULD SIGNAL A REDUCTION OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL OVER THE
ECONOMY. NHUNG SAID THAT THESE CHANGES WOULD BE OF GREAT
BENEFIT TO BUSINESS OWNERS, BUT WOULD PUT MORE PRESSURE ON
STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES (SOE'S). HE INDICATED THAT
ADAPTABLE SOE'S COULD BE MAJOR BENEFICIARIES, WHILE THEIR
INFLEXIBLE COUNTERPARTS WOULD BE THE BIGGEST LOSERS.
NONETHELESS, NHUNG SAID THAT THESE AMENDMENTS MOST DIRECTLY
ANSWERED THE CONCERNS OF COMMON PEOPLE. NGO BA THANH
SEPARATELY AGREED, COMMENTING THAT "THE PEOPLE ARE NOT MUCH
INTERESTED IN THE STATE APPARATUS. THEY ARE JUST INTERESTED
IN THEIR RIGHTS TO DO BUSINESS."

11. (SBU) OF ALL OF THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS, "RULE OF LAW"
CHANGES TO ARTICLES 2 AND 12 PERHAPS GENERATED THE HIGHEST
LEVEL OF SCHOLARLY DEBATE. ARTICLE 2'S PROPOSED AMENDMENT
WOULD SPECIFY THAT VIETNAM IS A "LAW GOVERNED, SOCIALIST"
STATE. THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 12 WOULD ELIMINATE
"THE STATE ADMINISTERS SOCIETY BY MEANS OF LAW, UNCEASINGLY
STRENGTHENING THE SOCIALIST LEGAL SYSTEM" IN FAVOR OF
"BUILDING THE LAW GOVERNED SOCIALIST STATE OF VIETNAM IS THE
RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY ORGAN, ORGANIZATION AND CITIZEN."
BUT, ACCORDING TO NGUYEN SI DUNG, ADOPTION OF SUCH NEW RULE
OF LAW LANGUAGE WOULD BE ONLY A FORMAL DECLARATION, WITHOUT
PRACTICAL EFFECT.

12. (SBU) NGUYEN SI DUNG CLAIMED THAT HO CHI MINH HAD
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PAGE 03 HANOI 02980 03 OF 05 150124Z
ORIGINALLY EXPRESSED THE IDEAL BEHIND THESE AMENDMENTS IN
TERMS OF DESCRIBING VIETNAM AS A "STATE OF LAW" IN THE
VIETNAMESE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. HE ADDED, HOWEVER,
THAT THERE IS NO CONSENSUS YET THAT VIETNAM IS READY TO PUT
THE LAW ABOVE THE STATE; IT IS STILL "RULED BY LAW," AN
IMPORTANT DISTINCTION. SOME OBSERVERS COMMENTED THAT
CURRENT WORDING OF ARTICLE 12 MORE ACCURATELY REFLECTS THE
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE STATE AND THE LAW. NGO BA THANH,
OF THE AMENDMENT DRAFTING COMMITTEE, SAID THAT THE MAIN
PURPOSE OF THESE AMENDMENTS IS TO "RAISE THE SENSE OF LAW
COMPLIANCE FOR ALL PEOPLE." SWEDEN'S JOHANSSON NOTED THAT
THE PROPOSED NEW LANGUAGE MIGHT BOIL DOWN TO ASSERTING
CENTRAL CONTROL IN A COUNTRY WHERE LOCAL DECREES OFTEN
CONTRADICT THE CONSTITUTION.

13. (SBU) A PROPOSAL TO ELIMINATE THE REFERENCE TO
"COMPULSORY, FREE EDUCATION" FROM ARTICLE 59 REPORTEDLY DREW
WIDESPREAD PUBLIC CRITICISM. (NOTE: EDUCATION IS ONLY
COMPULSORY AND FREE THROUGH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL --5TH GRADE --
AT PRESENT. END NOTE) NGUYEN SI DUNG CLAIMED THAT THIS
AMENDMENT HAD BEEN INTRODUCED AT THE BEHEST OF THOSE WHO ARE
WEALTHY ENOUGH TO PAY FOR PRIVATE EDUCATION. CLAIMING THAT
IT WAS THE MOST UNPOPULAR NEW AMENDMENT, HE PREDICTED THAT
IT WOULD NOT PASS. TRAN NHUNG OF THE PEOPLE'S ARMY
NEWSPAPER OPINED THAT THIS AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE TWO POSITIVE
EFFECTS: 1) TO MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR "SOCIAL GROUPS AND
INDIVIDUALS TO CONTRIBUTE TO PRIMARY EDUCATION" BY
ENCOURAGING MORE PRIVATE SCHOOLS (ALREADY LEGAL BUT STILL
RELATIVELY FEW); AND, 2) TO ALLOW GOVERNMENT EDUCATION
BUDGETS TO BE TARGETED TO HELP THE NEEDIER RURAL AND UPLAND
AREAS. PRESS REPORTS HAVE NOTED THAT MANY CITIZENS OPPOSED
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PAGE 04 HANOI 02980 03 OF 05 150124Z
THIS AMENDMENT, FEARING THAT IT WOULD MEAN THE END OF FREE
PRIMARY EDUCATION. NHUNG INSISTED THAT THIS WOULD NOT
HAPPEN, HOWEVER.

THE STATE APPARATUS
-------------------

14. (U) AMENDMENTS CONCERNING ORGANIZATION OF THE "STATE
APPARATUS" (ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM) HAVE ATTRACTED RELATIVELY
LITTLE PUBLIC ATTENTION, BUT A NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO SPOKE TO
POLOFF IDENTIFIED THESE AS AMONG THE MOST IMPORTANT PROPOSED
CHANGES. THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE EMPHASIZED THESE AMENDMENTS
IN ITS NOVEMBER 13 ANNOUNCEMENT. THE MOST IMPORTANT ONES,
ACCORDING TO NGUYEN SI DUNG AND MS. THANH, MANDATE MORE
"DECENTRALIZATION" OF POWER FROM THE CENTER TO THE
PROVINCES. OTHER PROPOSED AMENDMENTS INCLUDE MEASURES
GIVING MORE POWER TO THE NA AND THE PRIME MINISTER.

15. (SBU) ONE EXAMPLE OF "DECENTRALIZATION" WOULD BE
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO INCREASE THE AUTHORITY OF PROVINCIAL
PEOPLE'S COUNCILS BY GIVING THEM MORE BUDGET APPROPRIATION
AUTHORITY. AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 84 WOULD ACCOMPLISH THIS
BY SUBSTITUTING "CENTRAL" (TRUNG UONG) FOR "STATE" (NHA
NUOC) IN REFERENCE TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY'S BUDGET
APPROPRIATION DUTIES. IN THIS CONTEXT, "CENTRAL" MEANS THE
NATIONAL-LEVEL GOVERNMENT ONLY, WHILE "STATE" REFERS TO
GOVERNMENT AT ALL LEVELS. ACCORDING TO NGUYEN SI DUNG, THIS
WOULD CHANGE THE CURRENT PROVINCIAL FUNDING MECHANISM IN
WHICH THE PROVINCES RECEIVE EARMARKED FUNDING FROM THE NA
BASED ON REQUESTS PASSED THROUGH THE FINANCE MINISTRY. IN
THE FUTURE, PROVINCES WOULD THEN BE ABLE TO ALLOCATE OR
REALLOCATE BLOCK APPROPRIATIONS FROM THE NA. HE ADDED THAT
CENTRALIZED DECISION-MAKING HAD BEEN GOOD DURING WARTIME,
BUT MORE "DECENTRALIZATION" WOULD BE BETTER FOR PEACE. THE
POINT OF THIS AMENDMENT, ACCORDING TO BOTH MS. THANH AND
NGUYEN SI DUNG, WOULD BE TO ENCOURAGE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS
TO TAKE MORE INITIATIVE AND RESPONSIBILITY. (REF B REPORTED
ON THE DIFFICULTIES AND AMBIGUITIES OF "DECENTRALIZATION,"
PARTICULARLY THAT PROVINCIAL PEOPLE'S COUNCILS DO NOT
NECESSARILY HAVE THE CAPACITY TO UNDERTAKE ADDITIONAL
FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.) NHUNG ADMITTED THAT NO ONE KNOWS
EXACTLY HOW THIS AMENDMENT COULD BE IMPLEMENTED, A PROBLEM
NGUYEN SI DUNG ALSO RAISED.

16. (SBU) THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WOULD POTENTIALLY GAIN
MORE POWER THROUGH OTHER PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO ARTICLE 84,
MARKING A CONTINUATION OF A GRADUAL TREND TOWARDS A LARGER
FORMAL ROLE FOR THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. ONE OF THE PROPOSALS
WOULD GIVE THE NA THE RIGHT TO INITIATE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTES
ON OFFICIALS INCLUDING THE STATE PRESIDENT, THE PRIME
MINISTER, CABINET MINISTERS, THE PRESIDENT OF THE SUPREME
PEOPLE'S COURT, AND THE CHIEF PROCURATOR OF THE SUPREME
PEOPLE'S PROCURACY. NGUYEN SI DUNG CLAIMED THAT THIS IN
EFFECT WAS ONLY A STEP AWAY FROM A SYSTEM OF CHECKS AND
BALANCES, SINCE THE NA WOULD HAVE MORE EXPLICIT AUTHORITY
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PAGE 03 HANOI 02980 04 OF 05 150124Z
OVER THE JUDICIARY BRANCH. HE WORRIED THAT THESE AMENDMENTS
WOULD FURTHER UNDERMINE ALREADY WEAK JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE,
HOWEVER. OTHER OBSERVERS HAVE COMMENTED THAT THE AMENDMENTS
ARE SUPERFLUOUS SINCE THE 1992 CONSTITUTION'S CHAPTER SIX
(WHICH INCLUDES ARTICLE 84 OF THE CURRENT CONSTITUTION)
ALREADY GIVES THE NA EXPLICIT AUTHORITY TO "ELECT, RELEASE
FROM DUTY, REMOVE FROM OFFICE" THESE SENIOR STATE OFFICIALS.

17. (SBU) MS. THANH SEPARATELY SAID THAT SHE REGARDED THE
AMENDMENTS ON THE NA AS A "DEVELOPMENT OF CENTRALIST
DEMOCRACY, BECAUSE THE NA, REPRESENTING GEOGRAPHICAL
DISTRICTS AND SOCIAL SECTORS, SHOULD BE ABOVE THE EXECUTIVE
AND JUDICIARY." ACCORDING TO NGUYEN SI DUNG, THE INTENT OF
THESE AMENDMENTS IS TO INCREASE THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. OTHER AMENDMENTS WOULD GIVE THE NA
STANDING COMMITTEE MORE POWER TO ACT BETWEEN FULL ASSEMBLY
SESSIONS, BUT THESE PROPOSALS SEEM TO BE UNPOPULAR WITH MANY
ASSEMBLY MEMBERS.

18. (SBU) SOME PROPOSED AMENDMENTS WOULD ALSO GIVE THE
PRIME MINISTER MORE POWER, ESPECIALLY OVER LOCAL
GOVERNMENTS, THROUGH STRENGTHENED ABILITY TO APPOINT,
DISMISS, AND TRANSFER PROVINCIAL PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE
CHAIRPERSONS. THE EXECUTIVES AT LOWER ECHELONS WOULD ALSO
GET CORRESPONDING AUTHORITY OVER THEIR RESPECTIVE SUB-
DIVISIONS. MS. THANH AND NGUYEN SI DUNG EXPLAINED THAT THIS
WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PROVINCIAL EXECUTIVES MORE ACCOUNTABLE
TO THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT. NGUYEN SI DUNG COMMENTED THAT
THIS COULD ALSO MAKE PROVINCIAL PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN
MORE BEHOLDEN TO THE PRIME MINISTER AND LESS RESPONSIVE TO
LOCAL NEEDS. HOWEVER, NHUNG SAID THAT THIS AMENDMENT WOULD
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PAGE 04 HANOI 02980 04 OF 05 150124Z
"ENHANCE STATE MANAGEMENT" BY ENCOURAGING LOCAL EXECUTIVES
TO BE MORE ANSWERABLE TO THE CENTER FOR THEIR ACTIONS. IT
WOULD MAKE POSSIBLE, HE SAID, "PUNISHMENT AND CORRECTION"
FOR MISTAKES BY MOVING AWAY FROM A COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP
SYSTEM WHICH OBSCURES RESPONSIBILITY. OTHER PROPOSED
AMENDMENTS WOULD REPLACE THE TERM "STATE OFFICIAL" WITH
"PUBLIC OFFICIAL" THROUGHOUT THE CONSTITUTION. NHUNG SAID
THAT THESE CHANGES MAKE IT EASIER FOR THE PRIME MINISTER TO
EXERCISE AUTHORITY OVER THE GOVERNMENT. OTHER COMMENTATORS
HAVE NOTED THAT THE PROPOSED DESIGNATION MAKES CLEAR THAT
OFFICIALS SERVE "THE PEOPLE" DIRECTLY RATHER THAN WORKING
ONLY FOR THE STATE.

THE AMENDMENT PROCESS
---------------------

19. (U) AFTER THE NINTH PARTY CONGRESS CONCLUDED, THE AD
HOC STEERING COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS CHAIRED
BY NGUYEN VAN AN DRAFTED THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS, PUBLICIZED
THEM, AND INVITED PUBLIC COMMENT FROM AUGUST 16 TO SEPTEMBER
30. THE AD HOC COMMITTEE CONDUCTED MEETINGS WITH VARIOUS
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS TO DISCUSS THE
AMENDMENTS. THE PRESS COVERED NEGATIVE, AS WELL AS
POSITIVE, REACTIONS BY COMMON CITIZENS. NA STAFF THEN
SUMMARIZED THE COMMENTS IN A REPORT THAT THE AD HOC
COMMITTEE REVIEWED FROM OCTOBER 8 TO 10.

20. (SBU) THE PARTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE THEN REVIEWED THE
AMENDMENTS AND COMMENTS DURING ITS NOVEMBER 5-13 PLENUM. AS
NOTED ABOVE, IT THEN CLEARLY INDICATED THAT IT WANTS TO
LIMIT CONSIDERATION TO THE ISSUES IDENTIFIED AT THE NINTH
PARTY CONGRESS, LIMITING THE SCOPE FOR DEBATE IN THE NA.
MS. THANH HAD EARLIER PREDICTED THAT ABOUT HALF OF THE NEXT
SESSION OF THE TENTH NA WOULD BE SPENT ON CONSTITUTIONAL
AMENDMENTS, BUT IT IS NO LONGER CERTAIN THIS WILL BE TRUE.
THIS NA SESSION WILL ALSO TAKE UP THE BTA, CHANGES TO THREE
LAWS, AND THE BUDGET.

21. (SBU) ACCORDING TO TRAN NHUNG, THE PROCESS IS BROADLY
SIMILAR TO THE PROCESSES THAT LED TO THE 1980 AND 1992
CONSTITUTIONS, BUT IS MORE OPEN AND INVOLVES GREATER PUBLIC
PARTICIPATION. HE NOTED THAT A REPORT ON THE PUBLIC
COMMENTS WOULD BE PUBLISHED, UNLIKE PREVIOUSLY, AND
INDICATED THAT IT WOULD PROBABLY ACCOMPANY THE REPORT OF THE
AD HOC COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS TO THE NA
STANDING COMMITTEE. HE CLAIMED THAT THE SCOPE FOR PUBLIC
COMMENT WAS LARGER THAN BEFORE, WITH MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR
PUBLIC COMMENT.

22. (SBU) SWEDEN'S JOHANSSON CHARACTERIZED THE PROCESS AS
A "CONTROLLED DEBATE." SHE SAID THAT IT ALLOWED MORE
INTERNAL CONSULTATION AND FEATURED MORE USE OF THE PRESS AND
MASS ORGANIZATIONS THAN BEFORE. THIS REFLECTED MORE
ATTENTION TO "DEMOCRACY" IN A ONE-PARTY SYSTEM, SHE OPINED.
SHE ADDED THAT THE ONGOING PROCESS AT LEAST HELPED TO
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PAGE 03 HANOI 02980 05 OF 05 150125Z
STIMULATE MORE DEBATE ABOUT RIGHTS AND THE RIGHT TO COMPLAIN
THAN WOULD HAVE OCCURRED EVEN TWO YEARS AGO. (NOTE: ONE
COMPONENT OF THE PROJECT JOHANSSON MANAGES INCLUDES
FAMILIARIZING THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WITH THE SWEDISH
GOVERNMENT'S OMBUDSMAN. SHE SAID THAT WHILE THE NATIONAL
ASSEMBLY FOUND THE IDEA INTRIGUING, SHE DID NOT EXPECT THEM
TO CREATE AN OMBUDSMAN ANY TIME SOON. END NOTE.) SHE
ASSESSED THAT THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCESS REFLECTED
THAT PARTY AND NA WORK HAD BECOME MORE OPEN, AT LEAST WITHIN
THE BOUNDARIES OF "DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM."

EXPECTED OUTCOMES
-----------------

23. (U) OPINIONS DIFFER OVER HOW MUCH THE AMENDMENTS MAY
CHANGE FROM THEIR ORIGINAL FORM TO WHATEVER THE NA ADOPTS,
AS WELL AS HOW MANY AMENDMENTS WILL MAKE IT THROUGH THE NA
APPROVAL PROCESS. BOTH THE NOVEMBER 13 CENTRAL COMMITTEE
ANNOUNCEMENT AND NGO ANH DUNG'S COMMENTS SUGGESTED THAT
THERE WILL BE LITTLE OR NOTHING IN THE WAY OF ADDITIONS TO
THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS DURING NA CONSIDERATION, APART FROM
SOME POSSIBLE DELETIONS OR MINOR CHANGES. NGO BA THANH HAD
SAID THAT THERE WOULD BE NO CHANGES BECAUSE "ALL" OF THE
AMENDMENTS ARE "NECESSARY" FOR VIETNAM'S PROGRESS IN THE
21ST CENTURY. NGUYEN SI DUNG PREDICTED THAT SOME OF THE
MOST UNPOPULAR AMENDMENTS WOULD NOT PASS, ESPECIALLY
REGARDING EDUCATION. TRAN NHUNG HAD FORECASTED "HARD
DISCUSSIONS" DURING THE UPCOMING NA SESSION, GIVEN THE
EXPECTED UNFAVORABLE REACTIONS FROM SOME NA MEMBERS.

COMMENT
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 02980 05 OF 05 150125Z
-------

24. (SBU) MUCH OF THIS AMENDMENT EXERCISE SEEMS DESIGNED
PRIMARILY TO CREATE A SENSE OF PUBLIC EMPOWERMENT AND/OR TO
VEST "THE PEOPLE" WITH A SENSE OF GREATER PARTICIPATION IN
THE POLITICAL SYSTEM. MANY OF THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS ARE
AT BEST SYMBOLIC, LIKE THE SUBSTITUTION OF "PUBLIC" FOR
"STATE" OFFICIAL, BUT AT LEAST REFLECT A WELCOME RECOGNITION
OF A GROWING CIVIL SOCIETY, INSTEAD OF A PURELY PARTY/STATE-
LED NATION. IT IS NOT CLEAR, HOWEVER, THAT THE SRV HAS
SUCCEEDED IN ENGAGING THE GENUINE ATTENTION OF ITS CITIZENS
IN THIS PROCESS, HOWEVER, OR THAT THIS PROCESS WOULD HAVE
ANY EFFECT ON MITIGATING PERCEPTIONS ABOUT ARBITRARY
OFFICIAL DECISION-MAKING OR WIDESPREAD CONCERNS ABOUT
CORRUPTION BY PARTY AND STATE OFFICIALS. AS MUCH AS THE SRV
ATTEMPTS TO PORTRAY THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCESS AS
"DEMOCRATIC," IT WOULD BE A GREAT LEAP TO SAY THAT ITS FORM
OR CONTENT REFLECT ANY TRULY GRASSROOTS INITIATIVE,
PARTICULARLY AFTER THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE MADE CLEAR IT
SUPPORTED A FOCUSED RATHER THAN COMPREHENSIVE DEBATE ON
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
PORTER

UNCLASSIFIED

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