Cablegate: 2004 Local Elections: An Exercise in . . .?

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 02 Hanoi 1286 B. 01 Hanoi 2964 C. 02 Hanoi 1199

1. (U) Summary: Vietnam's April 25 elections for People's
Councils will be - on paper - more open and representational
than in previous years. The elections are the first since
the passage of revisions to the Law on Election of Deputies
to People's Councils in November 2003, and will be marked by
higher numbers of female and minority candidates, more
candidates per position, and fewer party members standing
for seats. Nonetheless, the whole process remains tightly
controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), which,
through the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), determined who
could and could not run. The results - while perhaps more
diverse - will not enhance more genuine grass-roots
democracy nor local empowerment. Public apathy remains
high. End Summary

2. (U) Nationwide elections on April 25 will select People's
Councils at the provincial, district, and local levels for a
five-year term. The councils act as local legislatures;
their part-time members have oversight over projects and
budgets at each respective levels of government. (Ref b
examined the evolving role of the People's Councils.) More
importantly, they vote on members of the People's
Committees, which run the daily affairs of the local
governments. There is also usually overlap between the
Committees and the Councils, often with the Chairman of the
Committee acting as a Vice Chairman of the Council, and the
Chairman of the Council serving as a Vice Chairman of the

3. (U) The GVN has launched a large public relations
campaign related to the elections, newspapers regularly
feature stories about the elections, voter lists have been
displayed in precinct polling stations for public
corrections, and billboards ("Voting is the right and duty
of citizens") have gone up across the country as part of a
get-out-the-vote campaign. In many cases, local officials
have even distributed candidate lists and biographies door
to door. Based on historical precedent, the campaign will
likely be "successful." According to official statistics,
in the 2002 National Assembly elections voter turnout was
99.73%, with most casting their votes before 10a.m. (Ref a).

4. (U) The electoral process is highly structured and
largely implemented by the VFF, the party-controlled
umbrella organization which supervises all major mass
organizations, leagues, religious groups, and unions; even
the CPV itself belongs. The elections, which take place
once every five years, were officially announced 105 days
before the vote is to take place. Candidates were then
chosen by a three-step consultative process. In the first
round, VFF committees at each level met and suggested
possible candidates, and also solicited additional names of
possible candidates from government offices, mass
organizations, and neighborhood leaders. Based on these
discussions and suggestions, the VFF committees then met a
second time to draw up a possible list of candidates, which
it sent to neighborhoods and mass organizations for
comments. At this stage, individuals were can also able to
nominate themselves, or - in a provision added under the new
electoral law - neighborhoods could put forth a specific
candidate. Finally, the VFF met a third time to review all
the names, and created the final list of candidates 35 days
before Election Day. The VFF conducts the electoral
campaigns by organizing public meetings for candidates, as
well as by arranging the dissemination of information about
the candidates through the media. Candidates generally do
not undertake individual campaigns and do not have specific
funds for the election. On Election Day, voters will be
presented with a list of possible candidates for their
constituency, and may cast as many votes are there are
seats. Typically, the there are five candidates for three
positions, but this varies somewhat depending on the
population of a constituency, as well as between urban and
rural areas.

5. (U) Amendments to the Law on Election of Deputies of
People's Councils were passed on November 26, 2003.
Potentially the most significant of these is that blocks of
citizens - the size or nature of which is undefined - can
nominate candidates. Previously, candidates could only be
nominated by members of the VFF, or by individuals
nominating themselves. According to a UNDP advisor working
on a project to strengthen the capacity of elected bodies,
this change could potentially lead to better ties and more
accountability between representatives and a section of the
electorate. Another new change is that there now must be at
least two more candidates than positions for voters to
choose from. Previously the law had only stipulated that
there must be more candidates than positions, which was
frequently meant only one extra, who was often just filler -
too young or inexperienced to appeal to voters. There are
on average 1.9 candidates per position in this year's

6. (U) In addition to the legal changes, the VFF has the
explicit mandate to improve the "quality and proportion" of
candidates. According to Tran Ngoc Nhan, an elections
expert at the VFF, the VFF's new "six increases and one
decrease" policy was aimed at increasing the number of
candidates who are under the age of 35, women, non-CPV
members, ethnic minorities, members of religious groups, and
private businesspeople, and decreasing the number of
candidates who are current government employees. Figures
vary from province to province, but overall, on the final
lists include 32% of candidates who are women, 20%
minorities, 20.5% under 35 years old, 5.5% from the private
business sector, and 3.5% from religious groups. Party
members still account for the majority of candidates, making
up 58% of local candidates, 74% of district-level
candidates, and 76% of provincial candidates. These indeed
represent some increases for women, youth, and minorities,
but little change since the last election in the number of
Party member candidates, according to the UNDP expert. Only
1.3% of candidates are self nominated.

7. (SBU) Criticisms of this year's elections have included:
information about the legal changes were poorly distributed
and not until early January; although the election period
was lengthened from 90 to 105 days to allow for more public
consultation on candidates, the elections were announced
immediately before Tet, so the extra two weeks were lost to
Vietnam's long holiday. Also, candidates appear to have had
only limited access to the mass media to promote their
campaigns, as stipulated under the new law. Many voters
admit total lack of knowledge about who the candidates are
and what they stand for. Some have pledged privately to
vote only for the youngest candidates, in hope of stirring
up change. Similarly, others resolved only to vote for non-
CPV members. Many, perhaps most, expressed little optimism
that the results of the elections would be in any way
meaningful, and few Hanoi voters could describe exactly what
People's Councils do.

8. (U) Another failed initiative in this year's elections
was an anti-corruption move by the National Assembly
Standing Committee, which required candidates publicly to
declare their personal assets. The move was broadly
declared on March 17, but then quietly scrapped. A Prime
Minister's office spokesman claimed that the reason the move
was dropped was that private businesspeople had threatened
to drop out of the campaign if forced to reveal their
assets. (Note: In the 2002 National Assembly elections,
some constituencies posted these declarations publicly,
while others made them available upon request at the local
VFF office -- ref c. End note)

9. (SBU) Comment: Despite the media fanfare about the
elections, the process remains very much under tight
official control, with the GVN and CPV still reserving the
ability to veto candidacies, including those self- or
community-nominated candidates from outside the official
structure. More women, ethnic minorities, and youths on the
Councils may be perhaps a positive step, but given the
clearly defined targets for percentages of each group to
become candidates, these welcome goals were rather anti-
democratic in nature, albeit more representational. The
People's Councils elections are in the end more about
encouraging a sense of public participation in local
legislative processes than in stimulating genuine grass-
roots democracy or true local empowerment. The public
apathy that has so far manifested itself is perhaps the
clearest comment on the failure of this gesture.

© Scoop Media

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