Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The slowly shifting tectonic plates of Vietnamese politics

Ernie Bower from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. has written an insightful analysis of the hidden nature of political change in Vietnam, ahead of the Communist Party's all-important National Congress early next year.

He explains that while there are rarely any overt signs of political change taking place in Hanoi, the real moves tend to happen slowly and behind closed doors.

He concludes:

The quiet in Vietnam belies a proactive subterranean political agenda. The good news is that Vietnam’s leaders are likely to move the country in directions that will enhance its standing and growth, strengthen ASEAN, and open the door for closer ties with the United States and other international partners.

His argument seems to be supported by recent developments. Vietnam's National Assembly, whose delegates are almost all members of the Communist Party, has long been a supine body that appeared to do little-more than rubber stamp government policy.

But in recent years, the delegates have slowly grown bolder and the volume of debate has increased. On the weekend, the National Assembly further enhanced its increasing importance as a political institution, voting down a major government proposal for the first time.

The proposal in question was a controversial $56bn plan to build a 1,600km high-speed rail link between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which critics argue would be costly and ineffective.

It would be going too far to conclude that the National Assembly's rejection of the proposal is a manifestation that some deeper democratisation process is underway in this one-party state.

But it is a sign that even when politics seems stale on the surface in Vietnam, the tectonic plates of change are often still moving underneath.

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