Vietnam reaffirms party role in new charter

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2013 11:30 PM

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam passed a revised constitution on Thursday that reaffirmed the dominant political and economic role of the Communist Party, disappointing reform advocates who had taken advantage of an unprecedented public revision process this year to press for far greater changes.

The ruling party announced its plan to change the charter earlier this year, citing the need to keep up with changing economic times.

An early draft removed language saying the state sector must "play the leading role" in the national economy, leading to hopes the government may dismantle corruption-riddled and unproductive state-owned enterprises that eat up much of the national budget.

But the version passed Thursday by 98 percent of the members in the national assembly in Hanoi reinstated that wording.

The charter also said the Communist Party was the "leading force of the state and society," apparently dashing any hopes of political reform.

During the revision process, the government asked the public for suggestions on the revision process via the Internet, setting off a flurry of rare open criticism and discourse about politics in a country where there is no parliamentary democracy, free speech or right to protest.

Outspoken economist Nguyen Quang A, who was one of a group of 72 intellectuals who signed a public petition calling for change during the revision process, said he was not surprised the final version failed to contain any significant changes. "This national assembly belongs to the Communist Party of Vietnam, not the Vietnamese people," he said.

For analysts following the country closely, the constitutional revision process and an historic confidence vote in its political leaders were both signs of a gradually transforming political landscape, even as elements within the state seek to crackdown on freedom of speech over the Internet.

"While champions of reforms might be expected to be disappointed, the larger story is that politically because of this process, regardless of the formal outcome, Vietnam is a different place politically than it once was," said Jonathan London from the City University of Hong Kong.