Vietnam calls itself ‘democratic country,’ activists disagree

Activists calling for political reform in Vietnam disagreed this week with official claims that the country is a functioning democracy under one-party rule, saying the government relies on rhetoric and deceptions to mask its true nature.

Writing on Monday in its online newspaper, Vietnam’s Public Security Ministry called the Southeast Asian nation a “Socialist-Oriented People’s Democracy” that meets the people’s needs.

Vietnam doesn’t need a multi-party system, as democracy in Vietnam under Communist Party rule is “guaranteed and can play its full role in reality,” wrote the article’s author Phan Duong in a piece published just before the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Speaking to RFA from exile in Germany, Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai noted that Duong’s article was published also on the day the Public Security Ministry held a national conference, “a very important event.”

“Through this article, they sent out a very clear message that the police and security forces must always protect the Communist Party regime,” said Dai, founder of Vietnam’s online Brotherhood for Democracy, an organization advocating democracy in Vietnam whose members are now mostly in prison.

Security forces always play a crucial role in protecting dictatorships, Dai said.

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“Yesterday, while attending the conference marking the 77th anniversary of the public security forces, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said that these forces should always have ‘sharp swords and strong shields’ ready to protect the Party and the regime at all costs,” he said.

Vietnam’s actions contradict its claims to be a democracy, said Nguyen Tien Trung, a former political prisoner now living in Ho Chi Minh City. “They must assert that Vietnam has a democratic regime in order to continue to deceive those who still believe in the ‘socialist democracy’ theory,” Trung said.

“This justification is vital to the existing regime, as all political regimes need to maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of their people and the international community” he said.

True democracy comes from multi-party elections in which people can choose their preferred leaders and parties to govern the country for limited periods of time, Trung said, adding that anyone who points out this simple and obvious truth will be “a thorn in the authorities’ eyes.”

“The authorities will suppress, assault and arrest anyone who fights for democracy so they can stop their voices and messages from reaching the majority of the people, and this crackdown also acts as a deterrent to anyone who plans to speak honestly and bravely about the current political regime,” he said.

China's own claims ridiculed

Vietnam’s fellow one-party Communist neighbor China has also recently branded itself a democracy, issuing a white paper and running a state media campaign ahead of the Dec. 9 U.S.-sponsored Summit for Democracy, a virtual summit of more than 100 countries in Europe, North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

China’s claim was ridiculed on social media, while independent scholars said Beijing has failed to meet accepted attributes of democracy.

Vietnam’s government this year arrested around 40 bloggers and other writers or activists on charges of “disseminating materials against the State” or “abusing freedom and democratic rights to violate the State’s interests,” according to RFA and other reports.

In December alone, Vietnamese courts sentenced four journalists and activists to a total of 35 years in prison after trials in Hanoi and Nam Dinh city.

And in March, Facebook user Vu Tien Chi was sentenced in the central highlands province of Lam Dong to a prison term of 10 years for “defaming the people’s government and senior leaders of the Party” in posts calling for the establishment of a National Congress to replace the National Assembly controlled by the Communist Party.

Citizen journalist Le Trong Hung is meanwhile set to be tried on Dec. 31 for nominating himself as a candidate for election to the National Assembly earlier this year.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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