Vietnamese Water Puppets or Really More Transparency?

Partyforumseasia: Invisibly for the audience, the famous Vietnamese water puppets are manipulated from behind the scene and under the water surface on which they perform. water puppetsIn good old Southeast Asian tradition, like the typical shadow play, invisible manipulation has long been typical for communist and other authoritarian regimes like the one in Vietnam. But more or less dark secrets like the infamous “arcana imperii” of the old Romans have been part of politics world wide. So, smiles on the stage and ferocious infighting behind the scene have been all too normal for the one party rule. The big question for analysts and observers is now whether the Communist Party of Vietnam is really opening up to more transparency in an era of rather uncontrollable social media and public demand. In view of the serious political shortcomings which have hampered the potential dynamism of Vietnam’s economy (see the recent post on this website) , the party may open up in order to win back some of the trust it has lost among the voters.
Under the headline “Vietnam: Open Secrets on the Road to Succession” (Link) cogitAsia has published an article by Vietnam expert Prof. Jonathan D. London from the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong. London is focusing on the coming leadership succession in 2016 and the preparations for it within the Central Committee:
“As in most one-party states, the politics of succession in Vietnam is meant to take place back stage. Evidence of what is actually occurring is systematically concealed. It is Vietnam’s present deviation from this pattern that has observers taking notice. Indeed, the manner in which events are playing out is lifting a curtain on Vietnam’s elite politics in a way that is without historical precedent. There have been several sets of surprises.
The first set has sprung from the process and alleged but non-verifiable outcomes of an unusual and nominally secretive round of confidence voting, in which 197 members of the Central Committee rated individual members of the Politburo according to their degree of confidence in members’ performance. That the Politburo would subject itself to a round of confidence voting by its formally supervisory Central Committee reminds us that, when it comes to politics, Vietnam’s party has cut its own cloth. China this is not.

The most interesting new development is the public scrutiny of top officials and party leaders which is going on for some time already by showing parliamentary sessions on TV.
“Though most Vietnamese do not follow party politics closely, Vietnam has in recent years developed an increasingly dynamic political culture, thanks to the rapid spread of the internet and the opportunities it has presented Vietnamese to read about and comment about virtually anything that strikes them, including politics.
This leads to a third intriguing development, the appearance of mysterious and heavily visited website, Profiles in Power, which has within the past several weeks published scandalous but seemingly well-documented accounts of several Politburo members’ alleged bad-behavior, including at least two members who were regarded as likely shoe-ins for 2016. The appearance of the website and discussion it has sparked has clearly had an impact, and prompted government calls to steer clear of it.

Though it may well be some sort of water puppet manipulation, Prof. London comes to the cautious conclusion that “recent events evidence greater transparency in Vietnam’s politics. Though not by design, this is nonetheless a significant development. It’s a pinhole view into Vietnam’s increasingly dynamic political scene.”

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