Jonathan London's Blog

Jonathan London's Blog

Some initial thoughts on confidence votes in the National Assembly

The conduct and results of the confidence votes taken in Viet Nam’s National Assembly this Monday and Tuesday on the performance of state and assembly leaders is a certifiably remarkable development. At minimum the development is the latest indication that though Viet Nam remains an authoritarian polity, the country’s political system, in some important respects, is evolving in some encouraging if indeterminate ways.

Public confidence votes are an utterly new phenomenon in Viet Nam. And though their introduction is an artifact of tensions within the state, their appearance is a fresh reminder that Viet Nam’s politics are in uncharted waters. Such a lightly stage-managed affair remains unimaginable in China, for example, a country with which Viet Nam shares many institutional traits.

The results of the confidence votes, which saw the sitting Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung receive confidence votes from from only 67 percent of sitting parliamentarians is certainly atypical of a one-party state. Indeed, it is within the range of what we might expect for similar exercises in a pluralistic polity, such as South Korea, to cite a regional example.

The result itself was not wholly surprising, as PM Dung’s perceived mismanagement of the economy and implication with corruption has won him many enemies. But it does indicated that politics in Viet Nam is undergoing a peaceful evolution of sorts. Beyond the results themselves, the very fact that Viet Nam undertook a confidence vote and rather swiftly publicized its outcomes is not merely of symbolic value, has a substantive significance in and of itself. At the very least the results represent a landmark event in the historical development of the national assembly.

Perhaps one unintended consequence of the these proceedings and their outcomes is the that it will reinforce perceptions among Vietnamese of their Prime Minister’s unconvincing grade D performance; a score unheard of in the a country where the leadership has in the past lauded its presumptively unique capacities for leadership. In addition to the Prime Minister, the governor of Viet Nam’s central bank and the country’s education and health ministers also received conspicuously poor scores.

Taken on the whole, there has never been anything quite like on the public face of Viet Nam’s politics. The Party’s internal processes remain as opaque as ever.Viet Nam’s politics retains its fundamental imitations. The power of the National Assembly is modest and the institution lacks autonomy. To say that is a democratic institution of any sort is clearly incorrect as its ‘representatives’ are ‘elected’ through a process that is in effect a Party managed process of political appointments. Nonetheless, the body has adopted an increasing number of ‘accountability’ measures including live broadcasts of what are at times intense query sessions.

Since its earliest days the democratic credentials of the Assembly were short circuited. The Assembly’s capacities are limited, at its numbers are dominated by relatively young and inexperienced delegates with little power of their own.Be that as it may, the public conduct and results of the confidence vote are a notable development in a country infamous for its opaque politics. The results remind us about the deep divisions running through the assembly and the Communist Party itself. Perhaps such divisions are a sign of malaise. Perhaps they represent a process of political maturation.


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