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.”

Vietnam’s Central Party Committee Meeting: How to Read the Results


Partyforumseasia: According to today’s (13.01.2015) Viet Nam News (Link) “the committee nominated more officials to strategic positions, cast confidence votes for members of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat and elected more officials to the Central Committee’s Inspection Commission.(…) The Party Central Committee (CPC) wrapped up its 10th meeting in Ha Noi yesterday with a review of the leadership and direction of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat in 2014.”

Viet NamThe Viet Nam News – report is interesting reading  in so far as it is obviously not formulated as a flattering success story. Problems for which the ruling party is responsible are made more visible than hidden between the lines, as is usual among Communist and other authoritarian regimes. Partyforumseasia suggests a few translations (original from the article in italics) into more outspoken plain English, alternative and improved “translations” are welcome!

“The CPC emphasised the need for Party building, especially in efforts to prevent and curb the degradation of political ideology, ethics and lifestyle among Party members.”
= Many party members are corrupt and don’t care about the Communist ideology.

“In terms of civil service reforms, the Committee said it was important to improve existing staff and attract talented people to work for Party and State agencies, organisations and public units.”
= There are too many underperforming civil servants, it is difficult to compete with the private sector.

“It said the press should be developed professionally and effectively to meet public demand for information, while uniting society and contributing to the development of the country and its people.”
= Our controlled press is too boring and the people don’t reed it.

“National defence and security should also be strengthened with social progress and fairness ensured, making it easier for the country to pursue its path in global integration, he said.”
= We have problems with the armed forces, draft and pay are not fair enough.

“He asked for more studies on important issues, especially the settlement of bad debts and macro-economic stabilization plans.”
= After decades of reform we are still struggling with economic and financial problems.

“Delving into a proposal related to a more synchronous political and economic overhaul, the leader said that it involved stronger efforts to accelerate Party building and stop political and moral degradation to create a consensus within the Party and society at large.”
= Our party suffers from a lack of consensus, internally and with the society.

As Ferdinand Lasalle (1825-64, one of the godfathers of early Socialism in Germany) said, “All great political action starts with the definition of the problems. Covering them up is petty political brinkmanship.”
Vietnam’s Central Party Committee
is definitely correct in naming the shortcomings. May their correction be fast and successful in the interest of this great nation and her people.