The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has a monopoly on power. A three-person collective leadership consists of the VCP general secretary, the prime minister, and the president. The president is the chief of state, while the prime minister is the head of government. General Secretary of the VCP heads up not only the VCP but also the 15-member Politburo. A decision by any member of the triumvirate is vetted by the other two. As a result, policy announcements tend to be bland and equivocal. [Source: Library of Congress, 2005]

Vietnam’s highly centralized government system is dominated by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP—Viet Nam Cong San Dang). As the force controlling the system, the party exercises leadership in all matters. The government manages state affairs through a structure that parallels the party's apparatus, but it is incapable of acting without party direction. All key government positions are filled by party members. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Society is ruled by the party's ubiquitous presence, which is manifested in a network of party cadres at almost every level of social activity. All citizens are expected to be members of one or another of the mass organizations led by party cadres, and all managers and military officials are ultimately answerable to party representatives. *

People usually think that everything in Vietnam is under central control. Pepe Escobar wrote in the Asia Times, “ That's not the case. Every province is king. The country is in fact a federation. Of course it's key to have Hanoi's approval. But the important piece of paper that really matters is to be delivered by each province's People's Committee. [Source: Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 15, 2003]

Government type: Communist state. Capital: Hanoi. Independence: September 2, 1945 (from France). National holiday: Independence Day, September 2, 1945.

The Vietnamese government has been relatively stable. It doesn’t have a great human rights record but people in Vietnam don’t seem too interested in rebelling. Since the Vietnam War ended in 1975 the government has gone through great lengths to make sure there is a geographical balance in the government. Even so southerners still have a hard time getting into positions of influence in the government.

A 2000 survey of the postwar generation by Youth Magazine found that Microsoft founder Bill Gates was seven times more admired than anyone in the party's Politburo and that many young people couldn't name the country's leaders. The magazine's poll issue, which authorities promptly removed from the stands.

Flag, National Anthem and Local Divisions of Vietnam

Flag: The Vietnamese flag has a red background and a yellow (gold) five-pointed star in the center. Red is the traditional Communist color , and the color of good luck and victory in Vietnamese, The star is a symbol of progress. From Vietnam’s socialist perspective red symbolizes revolution and blood, the five-pointed star represents the five elements of the populace - peasants, workers, intellectuals, traders, and soldiers - that unite to build socialism. The current flag was formally adopted in 1955 but had been in use since 1945. The old Vietnamese flag had a yellow background and three red stripes representing Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China—the divisions of Vietnam before it was split into North and South.

The lyrics and music of the Vietnamese national anthem— "Tien quan ca" (The Song of the Marching Troops) were written by Nguyen Van Cao. Adopted as the national anthem of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, it became the national anthem of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Although the song consists of two verses, only the first is used as the official anthem.

Administrative divisions: 58 provinces (tinh, singular and plural) and 5 municipalities (thanh pho, singular and plural): Provinces: An Giang, Bac Giang, Bac Kan, Bac Lieu, Bac Ninh, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Ben Tre, Binh Dinh, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, Cao Bang, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Dien Bien, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Gia Lai, Ha Giang, Ha Nam, Ha Tinh, Hai Duong, Hau Giang, Hoa Binh, Hung Yen, Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang, Kon Tum, Lai Chau, Lam Dong, Lang Son, Lao Cai, Long An, Nam Dinh, Nghe An, Ninh Binh, Ninh Thuan, Phu Tho, Phu Yen, Quang Binh, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Quang Ninh, Quang Tri, Soc Trang, Son La, Tay Ninh, Thai Binh, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa, Thua Thien-Hue, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Tuyen Quang, Vinh Long, Vinh Phuc, Yen Bai Municipalities: Can Tho, Da Nang, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Names for Vietnam

Formal Name for the country: Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam). Short Form: Vietnam. Term for Citizen(s): Vietnamese. Viet is the name of the people. "Viet" was a pronunciation of a Chinese word for "far", which described a nomadic (wandering hunter) people in that region of Asia. These wanderers migrated southward into current-day Vietnam. "Nam" means South. Therefore, Vietnam means "Viet (ethnic) people of the South." The name Viet Nam is composed from the two words viet and nam. In the second half of the twentieth century, the country came to be frequently referred to as Vietnam in the West. In recent years the original Vietnamese spelling has been used by the United Nations and increasingly in scholarship.

According to the Vietnam Travel and Living Guide: "Vietnam should be correctly written as Viet Nam. Viet is the name of the people, which covers the 54 different ethnic groups in the country. Nam means South. Viet Nam means the Viet people living in the South. The name Vietnam came about when Emperor Gia Long desired to rename the country Nam Viet which was the combination of names of regions in Vietnam, including An Nam and Viet Thuong, and later change to Vietnam as seen today. There are many other assumptions about the meaning of the name and the most rational explanation is that the name is the fine combination of both geographical and ethnical factors. In brief, Vietnam means the Viets of the South according to the second explanation or is synonymous with the reunification of different regions in Vietnam in accordance with the first explanation." [Source: Vietnam Travel and Living Guide]

According to Wikipedia: The name Viet Nam is a variation of "Nam Viet" (literally "Southern Viet"), a name that can be traced back to the Trieu dynasty of the 2nd century B.C. The word Viet originated as a shortened form of Bách Viet, a word applied to a group of peoples then living in southern China and Vietnam. The form "Vietnam" is first recorded in the 16th-century oracular poem "Sam Trang Trình" by Nguyen Binh Khiem. The name has also been found on 12 steles carved in the 16th and 17th centuries, including one at Bao Lam Pagoda in Haiphong that dates to 1558. Between 1804 and 1813, the name was used officially by Emperor Gia Long. It was revived in the early 20th century by Phan Boi Chau's History of the Loss of Vietnam, and later by the Vietnamese Nationalist Party. The country was usually called Annam until 1945, when both the imperial government in Hue and the Viet Minh government in Hanoi adopted Viet Nam. Since the use of Chinese characters was discontinued in 1918, the alphabetic spelling of Vietnam is official. [Source: Wikipedia +]

"Annam", which originated as a Chinese name in the seventh century, was the common name of the country during the colonial period. Nationalist writer Phan Boi Chau revived the name "Vietnam" in the early 20th century. When rival communist and anti-communist governments were set up in 1945, both immediately adopted this as the country's official name. In English, the two syllables are usually combined into one word, "Vietnam." However, "Viet Nam" was once common usage and is still used by the United Nations and by the Vietnamese government. +

Throughout history, there were many names used to refer to Vietnam. Besides official names, there are names that are used unofficially to refer to territory of Vietnam. Vietnam was called Van Lang during the Hùng Vuong Dynasty, Âu Lac when An Duong was king, Nam Viet during the Trieu Dynasty, Van Xuan during the Anterior Lý Dynasty, Dai Co Viet during the Dinh Dynasty and Early Lê Dynasty. Starting in 1054, Vietnam was called Dai Viet (Great Viet). During the Ho Dynasty, Vietnam was called Dai Ngu. +

Official names of Vietnam since the foundation of Vietnam. These names are recorded in history books and/or officially used in international diplomacy. 1)Van Lang is considered the first official title of Vietnam. This state was located in Phong Chau (present-day Phú Tho. province). The territory consisted of the Red River Delta and Thanh Hóa, Nghe An and Hà Tinh provinces. This state existed until 258 B.C. Names that followed: 2) Âu Lac; 3) Nam Viet; 4) Van Xuân; 5) Dã Nang; 6) Dai Co Viet; 7) Dai Viet; 8) Dai Ngu; 9) Viet Nam; 10) Dai Nam; 11) Empire of Vietnam; 12) Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North); 13) Republic of Cochinchina (South); 14) State of Vietnam (South); 15) Republic of Vietnam (South); 17) Republic of South Vietnam (South); 18) Socialist Republic of Vietnam. +

Vietnamese Government After the Vietnam War

The VCP in the mid-1980s was in a state of transition and experimentation. It was a time when a number of party leaders, who had been contemporaries of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), were stepping down in favor of a younger generation of pragmatists and technocrats, and a time when the prolonged poor condition of the economy sparked discontent among grass-roots party organizations as well as open criticism of the party's domestic policy. The party's political ethos, which had once seemed to embody the traditional Vietnamese spirit of resistance to foreigners and which had known great success when the country was overwhelmingly dominated by war and the issues of national liberation and reunification, appeared to have changed after the fall of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in the spring of 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam in 1976. This ethos had been at the core of the VCP's rise to power during the struggles for independence and unification. To a large degree, the popularity of the communist movement remained tied to these causes; when victory over the South was achieved in 1975, it became apparent that some of the party's governing principles did not easily translate to peacetime conditions. In the absence of war, the ethos changed and the difference between what was communist and what was popular became increasingly noticeable. [Source: Library of Congress*]

Hanoi was apparently unprepared for the scale of its victory in the South, having anticipated that the path to complete power would require at the very least a transition period of shared power with the Southern communist infrastructure (the Provisional Revolutionary Government) and even elements of the incumbent order. Two separate governments in North and South Vietnam were planned until the surprisingly swift disintegration of the South Vietnamese government eliminated the need for a lengthy transition. Following the establishment of communist control in the South, the government immediately was placed under a Military Management Commission, directed by Senior Lieutenant General Tran Van Tra with the assistance of local People's Revolutionary Committees. At a reunification conference in November 1975, the Party's plans for uniting North and South were announced, and elections for a single National Assembly -- the highest state organ -- were held on April 26, 1976, the first anniversary of the Southern victory. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formally named at the first session of the Sixth National Assembly (the "Unification Assembly"), which met from June 24 to July 2, 1976. *

After reunification, the focus of policy became more diffuse. Policy makers, absorbed with incorporating the South into the communist order as quickly as possible, were confronted with both dissension within the North's leadership and southern resistance to the proposed pace of change. The drive undertaken by party ideologues to eliminate all vestiges of capitalism and to collectivize the economy in the South was outlined in the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80) and announced at the Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976. The plan, the first after reunification, stressed the development of agriculture and light industry, but it set unattainable high goals. The government expected that all industry and agriculture in the South would be state-controlled by the end of 1979. According to Vietnamese sources, however, only 66 percent of cultivated land and 72 percent of peasant households in the South had been organized into collectivized production by early 1985, and socialist transformation in private industry had led to decreased production, increased production costs, and decreased product quality. Meanwhile, the country's leaders were finding it necessary to divert their attention to a number of other equally pressing issues. Besides addressing the many problems of the country's newly unified economy, they also had to work out postwar relations with Cambodia, China, and the Soviet Union. The Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was a watershed for party policy in the 1980s. The party's political mood was accurately reflected in the congress' candid acknowledgment of existing economic problems and in its seeming willingness to change in order to solve them. A new atmosphere of experimentation and reform, apparently reinforced by reforms initiated by the Soviet Union's new leadership, was introduced, setting the stage for a period of self-examination, the elimination of corrupt party officials, and new economic policies. *

While eagerly embracing capitalism and nurturing a middle class, Vietnam remains a one-party system where political dissent is sharply curtailed. The party, run largely by old-guard conservatives, shows no sign of abandoning its monopoly on power and has been urging new members to join. But the mere fact that the communist leadership is allowing youngsters to be exposed to Western ideas of democracy and free speech shows that the regime is loosening up. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, April 25, 2005]

Constitution of Vietnam

Constitution: The current constitution was adopted on April 15, 1992. Vietnam has had a series of constitutions, introduced in 1946, 1959, 1980, and 1992. As of late 2004, the Vietnamese constitution is regarded as the 1992 document, as amended in 2001 to continue the reform of the state apparatus, to allow more leeway to the private sector, and to promote progress in the areas of education, science, and technology. The original 1992 constitution modestly downgraded the roles of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the government in favor of reform. Instead of being authorized to do whatever was necessary to "build socialism," the VCP was subordinated to the constitution and the law, while the government was assigned specific management functions under the direction of a prime minister, whose powers also were defined. In addition, the constitution called for a multisector economy. Although the autonomy of state enterprises was recognized, a role also was assigned to the private sector. Individuals were permitted to acquire lengthy land leases. Foreign investors were granted ownership rights and protection against nationalization. [Source: Library of Congress *]

At the 7th National Congress in 1991, Nguyen Van Linh stepped down as General Secretary because of poor health. Du Muoi was appointed the party's General Secretary at the 1st plenum of the 7th Congress. He became the de facto leader of the conservatives; party officials, ideologues and supporters of state-owned domination of the economy supported his tenure. In the meantime, Võ Van Kiet , the premier, became the head of the reformist faction, while Lêuc Anh as President, represented the military faction. The split in executive power led to the writing of the 1992 Constitution. The constitution reduced the General Secretary's powers and while the constitution referred to him as the party's leader, he had no executive or legislative powers. However, Article 4 enshrines the role of the Communist Party as "the leading force in the State and society", giving the general secretary authority on the overall direction of policy. The 1992 Constitution led to the disappearance of party strongmen such as Lê Duan. In the words of Du Muoi. "In the leadership over the building of the state apparatus and appointment of state officials, the party sets forth views, principles and guiding orientations related to the organization of the state apparatus; it considers and makes suggestions about the points raised by the state, which is [then] left to make decisions." [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2001 the constitution was amended to increase the role of the National Assembly by giving it the authority to decide budget allocations and to stage votes of no confidence in office holders. Amendments also boosted the role of the private sector by recognizing the right to operate of any businesses not explicitly prohibited and lifting restrictions on their size. These revisions were intended to encourage the development of a cottage industry of individual traders and private enterprises. In the field of education, amendments established the goals of universal secondary education, more vocational and technical training, and easier access to education by the poor and handicapped. *

Constitutional Evolution in Vietnam

The communist party-controlled government of Vietnam has ruled under three state constitutions. The first was promulgated in 1946, the second in 1959, and the third in 1980. Significantly, each was created at a milestone in the evolution of the VCP, and each bore the mark of its time. [Source: Library of Congress]

The purpose of the 1946 constitution was essentially to provide the communist regime with a democratic appearance. The newly established government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was sensitive about its communist sponsorship, and it perceived democratic trappings as more appealing to noncommunist nationalists and less provocative to French negotiators. Even though such guarantees were never intended to be carried out, the constitution provided for freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. The document remained in effect in Viet Minh-controlled areas throughout the First Indochina War (1946-54) and in North Vietnam following partition in 1954, until it was replaced with a new constitution in 1959. *

The second constitution was explicitly communist in character. Its preamble described the DRV as a "people's democratic state led by the working class," and the document provided for a nominal separation of powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. On paper, the legislative function was carried out by the National Assembly. The assembly was empowered to make laws and to elect the chief officials of the state, such as the president (who was largely a symbolic head of state), the vice president, and cabinet ministers. Together those elected (including the president and vice president) formed a Council of Ministers, which constitutionally (but not in practice) was subject to supervision by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. Headed by a prime minister, the council was the highest executive organ of state authority. Besides overseeing the Council of Ministers, the assembly's Standing Committee also supervised on paper the Supreme People's Court, the chief organ of the judiciary. The assembly's executive side nominally decided on national economic plans, approved state budgets, and acted on questions of war or peace. In reality, however, final authority on all matters rested with the Political Bureau. *

The reunification of North and South Vietnam (the former Republic of Vietnam) in 1976 provided the primary motivation for revising the 1959 constitution. Revisions were made along the ideological lines set forth at the Fourth National Congress of the VCP in 1976, emphasizing popular sovereignty and promising success in undertaking "revolutions" in production, science and technology, culture, and ideology. In keeping with the underlying theme of a new beginning associated with reunification, the constitution also stressed the need to develop a new political system, a new economy, a new culture, and a new socialist person. *

The 1959 document had been adopted during the tenure of Ho Chi Minh and demonstrated a certain independence from the Soviet model of state organization. The 1980 Constitution was drafted when Vietnam faced a serious threat from China, and political and economic dependence on the Soviet Union had increased. Perhaps, as a result, the completed document resembles the 1977 Soviet Constitution. *

The 1980 Vietnamese Constitution concentrates power in a newly established Council of State much like the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, endowing it nominally with both legislative and executive powers. Many functions of the legislature remain the same as under the 1959 document, but others have been transferred to the executive branch or assigned to both branches concurrently. The executive branch appears strengthened overall, having gained a second major executive body, the Council of State, and the importance of the National Assembly appears to have been reduced accordingly. The role of the Council of Ministers, while appearing on paper to have been subordinated to the new Council of State, in practice retained its former primacy. *

Among the innovative features of the 1980 document is the concept of "collective mastery" of society, a frequently used expression attributed to the late party secretary, Le Duan (1908- 1986). The concept is a Vietnamese version of popular sovereignty that advocates an active role for the people so that they may become their own masters as well as masters of society, nature, and the nation. It states that the people's collective mastery in all fields is assured by the state and is implemented by permitting the participation in state affairs of mass organizations. On paper, these organizations, to which almost all citizens belong, play an active role in government and have the right to introduce bills before the National Assembly. *

Another feature is the concept of socialist legality, which dictates that "the state manage society according to law and constantly strengthen the socialist legal system." The concept, originally introduced at the Third National Party Congress in 1960, calls for achieving socialist legality through the state, its organizations, and its people. Law, in effect, is made subject to the decisions and directives of the party. *

The apparent contradiction between the people's right to active participation in government suggested by collective mastery and the party's absolute control of government dictated by "socialist legality" is characteristic of communist political documents in which rights provided the citizenry often are negated by countermeasures appearing elsewhere in the document. Vietnam's constitutions have not been guarantors, therefore, of the rights of citizens or of the separation and limitation of powers. They have been intended instead to serve the partycontrolled regime. *

The 1980 Constitution comprises 147 articles in 12 chapters dealing with numerous subjects, including the basic rights and duties of citizens. Article 67 guarantees the citizens' rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and the freedom to demonstrate. Such rights are, nevertheless, subject to a caveat stating "no one may misuse democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state and the people." With this stipulation, all rights are conditionally based upon the party's interpretation of what constitutes behavior in the state's and people's interest. *

Head of Government in Vietnam

Vietnam is a one-party state with a collective style of leadership. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has a monopoly on power. A three-person collective leadership consists of the VCP general secretary, the prime minister, and the president. The president is the chief of state, while the prime minister is head of government. General Secretary of the VCP heads up not only the VCP but also the 15-member Politburo. A decision by any member of the triumvirate is vetted by the other two. As a result, policy announcements tend to be bland and equivocal. [Source: Library of Congress, 2005]

The general secretary of the Communist Party is the highest position in Vietnam. The leader of the state and the Communist Party, he is selected in a closed door meeting of the Communist Party’s 150-member Central Committee. The president and prime minister are less powerful than the general secretary. The National Assembly elects the president. The prime minister is head of the National Assembly. So that representation is balanced the general secretary, president and prime minister have traditionally been from each of Vietnam’s three main regions: the north, the center and the south.

The term of office for the three top leadership positions— general secretary, president, prime minister—is five years. Vietnam’s troika system—the three person collective leadership, comprised of the general secretary of the ruling party, the president and the prime minister— has been in place for some time. The general secretary is regarded as the first among equals. Traditionally the party's top slot has gone to a northerner, with many southerners in positions near the top.

The prime minister is in charge of overseeing the government's day-to-day workings. In recent years the prime minister has assumed jurisdiction over matters related to Vietnam’s sovereign rights, such as the South China Sea. Under party regulations, the president is under the authority of Secretariat, so the position is ceremonial. The president’s authority is often derived from his position as the senior member of the Politburo and as the second ranking member of the Secretariat rather than the presidency itself.

Ultimately, however, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) controls the executive and the electoral process. The VCP exercises control through the 150-member Central Committee, which elects the 15-member Politburo at national party congresses held every five years. Members of the party hold all senior government positions. The government is led by the politburo of the Communist Party (formally known as the “Lao Dong” , or Worker's Party). The Politburo currently has 15 members. In 2001 it was made up of 19 largely elderly men. How it functions and how decisions are made are largely unknown. Up until the 1990s many of Vietnam’s leaders were very old and had served in the wars against the French and United States. They enjoyed the perks of their positions while complaining that the younger generations doesn’t understand about suffering, sacrifice and discipline.

The Cabinet is appointed by president based on proposal of prime minister and confirmed by National Assembly. The Vietnamese government has ministers in the following areas: agriculture and rural development; construction; culture and information; education and training; finance; foreign affairs; industry; interior; justice; labor, war invalids, and social affairs; marine products; national defense; planning and investment; public health; science, technology and environment; trade; and transport and communications.

Executive branch: Chief of state: President Truong Tan Sang (since July 2011); Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan (July 2007). Head of government: Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (since June 2006); Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai (since August 2007), Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan (since August 2007), Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh (since August 2011), and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (since August 2011). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Vietnamese Leader Get Only a s$240 Monthly Salary in 2005

In 2005, Associated Press reported: "Despite a recent pay rise, President Tran Duc Luong's salary is only 3.77 million dong (US$240; euro183) a month, a state-controlled newspaper reported. Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, the most powerful man in the country, is paid the same as the president, while Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An are paid 152,000 dong (US$10; euro7.60) less, Thanh Nien (Young Newspaper) said. It was the first time the salaries of Vietnam's leaders have been revealed to the public. [Source: The Associated Press - January 11, 2005]

The newspaper also reported that elite politburo members are paid 3.393 million dong (US$216; euro165), while ministers earn from 2.813 million dong to 2.987 million dong (US$180 to US$190; euro137 to euro145) a month. Four-star generals earn 3.016 million dong (US$192; euro146), it said.

An official from the labor ministry said the government increased the monthly salary for civil servants by an average of 31.5 percent effective from Oct. 1 last year to offset Vietnam's 9.5 percent inflation rate. Vietnam's minimum monthly salary is 290,000 dong (US$18; euro13.74). Despite robust economic growth of more than 7 percent in recent years, Vietnam remains one of the poorest countries in the world with GDP per capita of about US$550 (euro 420).

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Survives the Country’s First Confidence Vote

In June 2013, Chris Brummitt of Associated Press wrote: Vietnamese lawmakers handed the prime minister a grudging mandate in the country's first ever confidence vote, a ballot seen as a small step toward a more pluralistic style of governance in Vietnam. Premier Nguyen Tan Dung is under pressure because of his mishandling of the economy. In 2012 he survived a leadership challenge at a meeting of top party leaders. [Source: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press Writer June 11, 2013 ::/]

“Dung and 46 other ministers and top state officials faced the vote by members of the national assembly, the first in what will be an annual process aimed at showing an increasingly assertive public that its leaders are more responsive to their demands. Given more than 90 percent of the 498 members of the assembly are Communist Party cardholders, no one expected any of the officials to get the kind of poor showing that could trigger resignations. Still, more than 30 percent gave Dung a "low confidence" vote, a clear sign of the divisions within the party over his second-term in office, due to end in 2016. Analysts said this showing by itself wouldn't impact his position, but could be used by rivals in internal negotiations over his future. ::/

“Assembly members got to vote on whether they had "high confidence," ''confidence" or "low confidence" in the officials. The rules of the secret ballot state that officials with more than a 60 percent "low confidence vote" might have to resign. Dung received 160 "low confidence" votes out of 492 ballots, the third highest number of negative votes cast. President Truong Tan Sang, the man widely thought to be his main political challenger behind the tightly closed doors of party meetings, got just 28 negative votes. The central bank governor received 209 "low confidence" marks, presumably a reflection of his handling of the economy. The education minister got 177. Aside from the economy, concern over the poor standard of schools and universities is a major public concern. ::/

"This really does show that the assembly delegates are doing their job," said Edmund Malesky, a Vietnam expert at Duke University in the United States. "There definitely appears to some sort of responsiveness to constituencies. The two people associated with economic performance had a lower percentage of confidence votes than the mean." National assembly deputy Duong Trung Quoc said the voting reflected "the reality of life and pressing issues and ... partly reflect the people's grievances." The structural problems plaguing the economy and the increasing criticism and scrutiny of the party over the Internet have triggered calls for reforms by some in the party. While still arresting dissidents, it is revising the constitution, and will possibly water down language over the state's role in the economy. ::/

“Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at Hong Kong's City University, said the ballot showed "Vietnam was charting its own course," albeit slowly. He asserted that a similar event wouldn't happen in China, Vietnam's much larger, Communist neighbor. "Perhaps by necessity it is going for a brand of politics that has many of the trappings of a semi-accountable system," he said. "For a party that has a tradition of assuming its leaders were pristine and of outstanding caliber, it is a change of tune." ::/

Vietnamese Council of State

The Council of State is the highest standing body of the National Assembly. Its members, who serve as a collective presidency for Vietnam, are elected from among National Assembly deputies. The Council of State is "responsible and accountable" to the National Assembly, according to Chapter VII of the 1980 Constitution. It plays a more active role than the titular presidency provided for in the 1959 constitution and, in addition, it has assumed the day-to-day duties of the former Standing Committee of the National Assembly under the old constitution. The council thus holds both legislative and executive powers, but in actuality it wields less power than the Council of Ministers. As stipulated in the Constitution, the Council of State comprises a chairman, several vice chairmen (there were three in 1987), a general secretary, and members (there were seven in 1987). [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Members of the Council of State cannot be concurrently members of the Council of Ministers. Its chairman concurrently commands the armed forces and chairs the National Defense Council, which controls the armed forces. The Council of State nominally presides over the election of deputies to the National Assembly; promulgates laws and issues decrees; supervises the work of the Council of Ministers, the Supreme People's Court, the procurator general of the Supreme People's Organ of Control, and the People's Councils at all levels; decides, when the National Assembly is not in session, to form or dissolve ministries and state committees and to appoint or dismiss the vice chairmen of the Council of Ministers, ministers, and heads of state committees; declares a state of war, and orders general or local mobilization in the event of invasion. Such decisions, however, must be submitted to the next session of the National Assembly for ratification. The five-year term of the Council corresponds with that of the National Assembly, but the Council continues its functions until the new National Assembly elects a new Council of State. *

Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers is entrusted by the 1980 Constitution with managing and implementing the governmental activities of the state. It is described in that document as "the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the highest executive and administrative state body of the highest body of state authority." It is accountable to the National Assembly, and, more directly, to the Council of State when the National Assembly is not in session. Its duties include submitting draft laws, decrees, and other bills to the National Assembly and the Council of State; drafting state plans and budgets and implementing them following the National Assembly's approval; managing the development of the national economy; organizing national defense activities and assuring the preparedness of the armed forces; and organizing and managing the state's foreign relations. Its membership includes a chairman, vice chairman, cabinet ministers, and the heads of state committees, whose terms of office coincide with that of the National Assembly. The Council of Ministers includes its own standing committee, which serves to coordinate and mobilize the council's activities. In 1986 the standing committee was expanded from ten to thirteen members. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Each ministry is headed by a minister, who is assisted by two to twelve vice ministers. The number and functions of the ministries are not prescribed in the Constitution, but in 1987 there were twenty-three ministries, and a number of other specialized commissions and departments. In apparent response to the call by the Sixth National Party Congress in 1986 for a streamlined bureaucracy, several ministries were merged. The former ministries of agriculture, food, and food industry were joined in a newly created Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry. The ministries of power and mines were merged to form the Ministry of Energy, and a newly created Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Welfare consolidated the duties of three former ministries. The addition of two new ministerial bodies also resulted from the 1986 Congress: a Ministry of Information to replace the Vietnam Radio and Television Commission, and a Commission for Economic Relations with Foreign Countries to act as a coordinating body for foreign aid.

Central Committee and Politburo of Vietnam

The Central Committee— the party organization in which political power is formally vested— meets more frequently than the National Party Congress—at least twice annually in forums called plenums—and is much smaller in size. Like the National Party Congress, however, it usually acts to confirm rather than establish policy. In reality, the creation of policy is the prerogative of the Political Bureau, which the Central Committee elects and to which it delegates all decision-making authority. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

The Political Bureau (Politburo), composed of the party's highest ranking members, is the party's supreme policy-making body; it possesses unlimited decision- and policy-making powers. At the Sixth National Party Congress, the Central Committee elected thirteen full members and one alternate member to the Political Bureau. Acting in administrative capacities under the direction of the Political Bureau, are a party Secretariat, a Central Control Commission, and a Central Military Party Committee. The Secretariat is the most important of these three bodies, overseeing the party and day-to-day implementation of policies set by the Political Bureau. *

In 2006, delegates at the National Party Congress elected a new Central Committee of 160 members, which in turn will choose the Politburo, the party's innermost circle of leaders. For the first time ever, delegates were allowed to nominate candidates for general secretary. The Central Committee elected at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 numbered 124 full members and 49 alternate members.

In 1986 the Secretariat, headed by the party general secretary, was expanded from ten to thirteen members. Five of the Secretariat's members held concurrent positions on the Political Bureau: Nguyen Van Linh, Nguyen Duc Tam, Tran Xuan Bach, Dao Duy Tung, and Do Muoi. Among its roles are the supervision of Central Committee departments concerned with party organization, propaganda and training, foreign affairs, finance, science and education, and industry and agriculture. In 1986 there existed a seven-member Central Control Commission, appointed by the Central Committee and charged with investigating reports of party irregularities. A Central Military Party Committee with an undisclosed number of members, also appointed by the Central Committee, controlled the party's military affairs. In 1987, party committees throughout the armed forces were under the supervision of the People's Army of Vietnam's ( PAVN) Directorate General for Political Affairs, which, in turn, was responsible to the Central Military Party Committee. These committees maintained close relationships with the local civilian party committees. *

Vietnam’s National Party Congresses

The National Party Congress is the Vietnam Communist Party’s biggest event. Its delegates choose new members of the powerful 150- to 170-member Central Committee, which in turn approves a politburo and names a new party leader. Most of the decisions are made behind closed doors. What the public sees follows a script that has been worked out in advance. At most congresses about a third of the Central Committee and Politburo members return. The general secretary is chosen at every other congress. Important policies are raised at the Communist Party and debated to some degree.

As stipulated in the party Statute, the National Party Congress (or National Congress of Party Delegates) is the party's highest organ. Because of its unwieldy size (over 1,300 members), the infrequency with which it meets (once every 5 years or when a special situation arises), and its de facto subordinate position to the party's Central Committee, which it elects, the National Party Congress lacks real power. In theory, the congress establishes party policy, but in actuality it functions as a rubber stamp for the policies of the Political Bureau, the Central Committee's decision-making body. The primary role of the National Party Congress is to provide a forum for reports on party programs since the last congress, to ratify party directives for the future, and to elect a Central Committee. Once these duties are performed, the congress adjourns, leaving the Central Committee, which has a term of five years, to implement the policies of the congress. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

The 11th National Party Congress was held from January 12 to 19, 2011 at the Vietnam National Convention Center. A total of 1,377 delegates participated. The Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was attended by 1,129 delegates. The meetings for the ninth Party Congress in 2001 were held in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Hall. The Congress began with the singing of the national anthem and the Communist Internationale and a speech by sitting general secretary. In 2006, 1,176 delegates represented the party's 3 million members.

Five-year plans have traditionally been unveiled at the Party Congresses, Speeches are made by a gilded bust of Ho Chi Minh and images of Marx and Lenin. The Congress climaxes with a rubber stamp vote for the new General Secretary. The meeting allows the ruling party to chart the country's economic strategy. New appointments are ratified in May when the National Assembly is re-elected. The country's top four leaders and are selected and other decisions are made during secretive meetings amid tight security over eight days. Delegates refer to each other as "comrade."

The 10th National Party Congress in 2006 was noteworthy because of the extent of democratization which took place within the party. The role of the Central Committee in decision-making was strengthened, and the role of the Politburo as a supreme organ was weakened. Inner-party accountability was strengthened.

National Assembly: the Legislature of Vietnam

Legislative branch: The unicameral National Assembly or Quoc Hoi has 500 seats (there were 493 members in 2007). Members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. The National Assembly is no longer viewed as purely a rubber stamp for the Party. Delegates question ministers and scrutinise government policy, holding ministers accountable and amending legislation as well as a debating forum that has occasionally grilled top officials in sessions broadcast on national television. Deputies have complained loudly of corruption and passed laws that bring the country in line with the rules of the World Trade Organization. Still, the National Assembly is tightly controlled by the Communist Party and remains largely a rubber stamp body but it has more power than it once did. In recent years it has become a televised forum for policy issues. When the meetings are broadcast live on television and legislators are sometimes caught nodding off.

The National Assembly is the main legislative body in Vietnam and over 90 percent of its members are Communist Party members. The constitution recognizes the National Assembly as "the highest organ of state power." It meets twice a year. The assembly appoints the president (chief of state), the prime minister (head of government), chief procurators of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Office of Supervision and Control (the heads of the judiciary), and the 21-member cabinet (the executive).

Constitutionally, the National Assembly is the highest government organization and the highest-level representative body of the people. It has the power to draw up, adopt, and amend the constitution and to make and amend laws. It also has the responsibility to legislate and implement state plans and budgets. Through its constitution-making powers it defines its own role and the roles of the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the People's Councils and People's Committees, the Supreme People's Court, and the Supreme People's Organs of Control. The assembly can elect and remove members of the Council of Ministers, the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court, and the procurator general of the People's Supreme Organ of Control. Finally, it has the power to initiate or conclude wars and to assume other duties and powers it deems necessary. The term of each session of the National Assembly is five years, and meetings are convened twice a year, or more frequently if called for by the Council of State. [Source: Library of Congress, *]

Despite its many formal duties, the National Assembly exists mainly as a legislative arm of the VCP's Political Bureau. It converts Political Bureau resolutions into laws and decrees and mobilizes popular support for them. In this role, the National Assembly is led by the Council of Ministers acting through the Council of State and a variable number of special-purpose committees. Actual debate on legislation does not occur. Instead, a bill originates in the Council of Ministers, which registers the bill and assigns a key party member to present it on the floor. Before presentation, the member will have received detailed instructions from the party caucus in the assembly, which has held study sessions regarding the proposed legislation. Once the legislation is presented, members vote according to party guidelines. *

According to the U.S. Department of State: The National Assembly, although subject to the control of the CPV (all of its senior leaders and more than 90 percent of its members are party members), continued to take incremental steps to assert itself as a legislative body. A majority of National Assembly committees increased the number of members on the committees in an attempt to exert more influence over budgetary matters and to review and provide recommendations on policy matters. For example, the number of members on the External Relations Committee increased from 30 to 36, the Committee on Social Issues increased its membership from 40 to 50 members, and the committees on legal affairs and defense increased the number of vice chairs. In August the National Assembly appointed a Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee and adopted a statement by its Standing Committee giving guidance on the scope and timetable of the drafting process. [Source: 2011 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State; 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Report, May 24, 2012]

Elections in Vietnam

The president in Vietnam is elected by the National Assembly from among its members for five-year term. The last election was held in July 2011 (next to be held in July 2016); prime minister appointed by the president from among the members of the National Assembly; deputy prime ministers appointed by the prime minister; appointment of prime minister and deputy prime ministers confirmed by National Assembly, The 2011 election results: Truong Tan Sang elected president, with 97 percent of the National Assembly vote; Nguyen Tan Dung was elected prime minister, with 94 percent of the National Assembly vote. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Electoral officials said more than 56 million people voted in elections in 2007, a turnout of 99 percent. Voting is not compulsory but officials cajole people to cast ballots as districts compete to make sure all those eligible perform their civic duty. Many votes are cast for several members of a family by one person. [Source: Reuters, May 29, 2007]

A general national election to choose National Assembly delegates is held every five years. The first election following the reunification of the North and South was held in April 1976 and the voters selected 492 members, of which 243 represented the South and 249 the North. In 1987 the Eighth National Assembly numbered 496 members. Because successful candidates were chosen in advance, the electoral process was not genuine. No one could run for office unless approved by the party, and in many cases the local body of the party simply appointed the candidates. Nevertheless, every citizen had a duty to vote, and, although the balloting was secret, the electorate, through electoral study sessions, received directives from the party concerning who should be elected. The elections in 1987, however, were comparatively open by Vietnamese standards. It was evident that the party was tolerating a wider choice in candidates and more debate. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

According to the U.S. Department of State: Elections in May 2011 to select members of the National Assembly, were neither free nor fair, since the VFF chose and vetted all candidates. Despite the CPV’s announcement that a greater number of “independent” candidates (those not linked to a certain organization or group) would run in the elections, the ratio of independents to other candidates was lower than that of the 2007 election. The CPV approved 15 “self-nominated” candidates who did not have official government backing but were allowed to run for office. There were credible reports that party officials pressured many self-nominated candidates to withdraw or found such candidates “ineligible” to run. According to the government, more than 99 percent of the 62 million eligible voters cast ballots in the May election, a figure that international observers considered improbably high. (Voters are permitted to cast ballots by proxy, and local authorities are charged with assuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and all voters within their jurisdiction are recorded as having voted.) CPV candidates won 458 of the 500 seats. Only four of the 15 self-nominated candidates won. [Source: 2011 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State; 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Report, May 24, 2012 ***]

Vietnam has universal suffrage at age 18. The last National Assembly elections were held in May 2011 (next to be held in May 2016). Results for the 2011 National Assembly election (seats by party, total 500): 1) Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV, or VCP): 458 seats: 2) non-party CPV-approved: 38 seats; 3) self-nominated 4. The 496 CPV and non-party CPV-approved delegates were members of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and were vetted prior to the election. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

In May 2007, Vietnamese voted for delegates in the new parliament (the National Assembly). There were 875 candidates for 500 seats, including 150 who were not Communist Party members but had party approval to run. Billboards and loudspeaker announcements encouraged people to vote.

In addition to elections for the National Assembly, elections to the people’s councils (local assemblies) are held. In the elections in April 2004, although candidates were carefully vetted, about 25 percent of those elected were not members of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). By a law enacted in 2003, each district has at least two more candidates than the number of elected positions.

See History

Government and the Economy

The Vietnamese government still retains iron-fisted central planned policies.In 1995, the government banned of conversion of agricultural land to industrial land, and confiscated legal title to all land and prohibited borrowing against land.

The government has learned how to collect taxes to pay for roads, railways, health care, infrastructure projects and other essential services. Analysts have said that the government has to make political and economic reforms if it wnats to stave off unrest.

Like the Chinese government, the Vietnamese government and military are deeply involved in a number of business. The army has built golf courses; the ministry of agriculture sells fertilizer; and the Culture Ministry charges journalists $50 day for guides who earn $100 a month. [Source: Stanley Karnow in Smithsonian magazine]

The Vietnamese economy is shaped primarily by the VCP through the plenary sessions of the Central Committee and national congresses. The party plays a leading role in establishing the foundations and principles of communism, mapping strategies for economic development, setting growth targets, and launching reforms. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Planning is a key characteristic of centralized, communist economies, and one plan established for the entire country normally contains detailed economic development guidelines for all its regions. According to Vietnamese economist Vo Nhan Tri, Vietnam's post-reunification economy was in a "period of transition to socialism." The process was described as consisting of three phases. The first phase, from 1976 through 1980, incorporated the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80)--the First FiveYear Plan (1960-65) applied to North Vietnam only. The second phase, called "socialist industrialization," was divided into two stages: from 1981 through 1990 and from 1991 through 2005. The third phase, covering the years 2006 through 2010, was to be time allotted to "perfect" the transition. *

The party's goal was to unify the economic system of the entire country under communism. Steps were taken to implement this goal at the long-delayed Fourth National Party Congress, convened in December 1976, when the party adopted the Second Five-Year Plan and defined both its "line of socialist revolution" and its "line of building a socialist economy." The next two congresses, held in March 1982 and December 1986, respectively, reiterated this long-term communist objective and approved the five-year plans designed to guide the development of the Vietnamese economy at each specific stage of the communist revolution. *

Women in Government

About a third of the legislators in Vietnam’s National Assembly are women. Women serve in high level positions in government, including vice president, but arguably are still denied access to real power centers in the Vietnamese government. In 2007, the number of women elected to the Vietnamese legislature was 127, five percent short of the target.

In December 2005, Xinhua reported: "The women members in the National Assembly of Vietnam has increased to 27.31 percent of the total in the 2002-2007 tenure from 17.8 percent in the 1987-1992 tenure, a local women committee told Xinhua Friday. "Besides having a woman vice president, we have many women holding important positions. Now, women make up 12.5 percent of total ministers and positions equivalent to ministers. For the vice ministers and similar positions, the percentage is some 11,"said the country's National Committee for the Advancement of Women. [Source: Xinhua - December 16, 2005 ]

"Under the National Strategy on the Advancement of Women approved by the government in 2002, Vietnam targeted, by 2010,to reduce the urban unemployment rate among women to below 5 percent, increase the percentage of women post graduates to over 35, and raising the proportion of women in boards of governors of state agencies, political organizations, and political-social organizations at both central and local level to 50 percent.

The Encyclopedia of Sexuality reported that since the economic reforms in the 1980s "Women were also highly praised by the Communist Party as freedom fighters and war heroes; however, they are underrepresented in the political hierarchy. Female members of the National Assembly and of the Vietnamese Communist Central Committee do exist, but they represent an infinitesimal portion of the whole, and exercise almost no real decision-making power. The Politburo has never had a female member, and the female representation in the National Assembly began to decline immediately after the war from 27 percent in 1976, to 22 percent in 1981, and to 18 percent in 1987 (Fahey 1998). By 1992, the proportion had increased only marginally, but it was expected to decline as the quota that required proportional female representation of 18 percent was eliminated before the last election. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality */ ]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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