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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society

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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society
Contemporary Southeast Asia,
Vol. 31, No. 1 (April 2009), pp. 1-27
Published by: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute
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Contemporary Southeast Asia
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Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol. 31, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-27 DOI: 10.1355/cs31-la
© 2009 ISEAS ISSN 0219-797X print / ISSN 1793-284X electronic
Vietnam and the Challenge of
Political Civil Society
The study of contemporary Vietnamese politics has been dominated
by two main paradigms: "everyday politics" and civil society This
article argues that " everyday politics " and civil society paradigms have
marginalized the study of pro-democracy groups that have contested
the hegemonic role of the Vietnam Communist Party. It is argued that
political change in Vietnam will be significantly determined by how
Vietnam's one-party state manages the challenges posed by political
civil society Political civil society refers to the network of political
groups that coalesced into a nascent social movement known as Bloc
8406. Overseas Vietnamese groups, such as the Viet Tan party, play an
increasingly important role in providing financial and moral support
for political civil society The civil society paradigm is criticized for its
exclusive preoccupation with so-called " non-governmental organizations "
and community-based organizations as the prime agents of political
change. The article concludes with an assessment of the future impact
of political civil society on Vietnam and likely future scenarios.
Key words: "Everyday politics", mono-organizational socialism, civil society,
political civil society, Bloc 8406, Viet Tan, Vietnam.
This article aims to advance the discussion of Vietnamese politics
beyond contemporary academic preoccupation with so-called "everyday
politics" and "civil society" by promoting the concept of political civil
society. Political civil society refers to non-violent political, advocacy,1
Carlyle A. Thayer is Professor of Politics, School of Humanities and
Social Sciences, University College, University of New South Wales
at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.
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2 Carlyle A. Thayer
labour and religious organizations and movements that seek to promote
human rights, democratization and religious freedom in authoritarian
states. The term "political" has been included to capture the activist
nature of civil society in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s when
citizens became active in creating organizations outside of state control
in order to influence the conditions in which they lived, including
political pressure on the state. The study of political civil society groups
has been largely marginalized by mainstream academics who privilege
the role of so-called developmental non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) in their writings
on Vietnamese politics.2
This article will focus on the roles of nascent "political parties"
and trade unions that emerged in 2006 and coalesced in a political
coalition known as Bloc 8406. These groups mounted a series of
challenges to the political hegemony of the Vietnam Communist
Party (VCP) before they were repressed. This article will also analyse
the role of external agents, such as the Viet Tan Party, in providing
material, financial and human resource assistance to political civil
society groups.
In the past, the activities of human rights, pro-democracy and
religious freedom groups were relatively compartmentalized from
each other.3 Due to increasing networking between politically active
civil society groups cross-fertilization is taking place and a nascent
movement has gradually taken shape despite state repression. This
development is occurring when the legitimacy of the VCP is coming
under challenges due to public discontent with endemic corruption,
rising inflation, environmental pollution and other social ills. The
article concludes by noting that Vietnam may face the risk of
domestic instability if the one-party state fails to adequately address
the challenge of political civil society.
This article is divided into four parts. Part one briefly discusses
key characteristics of Vietnam's one-party system. Part two discusses
the question: what is civil society in a Vietnamese context? Part
three analyses the rise of political civil society primarily through a
focus on the activities of Bloc 8406 and the Viet Tan. And finally,
part four offers some observations on the challenge these political
developments pose for Vietnam's one-party system.
Vietnam's One-Party Political System
Prior to the era of doi moi (renovation), western political scientists
had no difficulty in classifying Vietnam as a Leninist political
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 3
system. The term "mono-organizational socialism'' has also been
used to describe Vietnam's political system.4 In such a system the
party exercises hegemonic control over state institutions, the armed
forces and other organizations in society through the penetration
of these institutions by party cells and committees. Senior party
members form the leadership nucleus of the state apparatus, National
Assembly, the People's Armed Forces and the Vietnam Fatherland
Front (VFF). These party leaders are termed "dual-role elites".
The VFF is an umbrella organization grouping 29 registered
mass organizations and special interest groups. The Vietnam Women's
Union is the largest mass organization with a membership of
12 million and a staff of 300 across the country. It is funded by the
state. Other mass organizations include the Ho Chi Minh Communist
Youth Union and the Vietnam Youth Federation, with 3.5 million
and 2.5 million members respectively. The leaders of these mass
organizations regularly serve on the Party Central Committee.
The Vietnam Union of Friendship Associations is the official
agency in charge of "people-to-people diplomacy". It controls the
People's Aid Coordinating Committee that regulates and monitors
all international non-government organizations (INGOs) working in
Vietnam. INGOs work with line ministries, technical agencies, local
authorities, and mass organizations of women, farmers, workers and
youth to deliver various forms of development assistance.
The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) is a
semi-governmental organization that represents the private sector that
emerged following the adoption of doi moi. The VCCI's membership
is composed of state-owned enterprises and private companies and
trade associations in equal numbers. The VCCI is not funded by
the state yet it is a member of the VFF. The VCCI is one example
of the growth of an organization outside the confines of the Party.
Nevertheless, it is policy that Party committees must be established
in all private enterprises.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Party has attempted to carry
out political reform through what is known as "grassroots democracy".
In 1998, in light of widespread peasant disturbances in Thai Binh
province the previous year, the VCP Central Committee issued
Directive 30/CT that established the policy basis for strengthening
participation of communities at the local level (commune, agency and
state-owned enterprises). Under the slogan "the people know, people
discuss, people execute, people supervise", Decree 29/1998/ND-CP
aimed to improve transparency and accountability of local government.
Article 4 directed local officials to disseminate information concerning
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4 Carlyle A. Thayer
policies, law, long-term and annual socio-economic development
plans, land-use policy and annual draft budgets.5 Citizens were to
be kept informed and then involved in discussing, deciding and
monitoring the actions of local government. Finally, Decree 79, "On
Grassroots Democracy" (2003), approved the participation of community-
based organizations in development activities at the commune
The term "mono-organizational socialism" merely categorizes the
organizational structure of Vietnam. It does not tell us much about
the dynamics of public policy formulation and implementation or
about "everyday politics". A consideration of these aspects is beyond
the scope of this article. What is important to note is that the all-
encompassing matrix of Party control has faced challenges to its
hegemony as Vietnam has developed a market-orientated economy
and integrated with the global economy. In 2006-07, Vietnam's mono-
organizational system faced its most severe challenge by politically
active civil society groups.
What is Civil Society in the Vietnamese context?
With the adoption of doi moi in the 1980s, Vietnamese society
began to change and so too did state-society relations. As Vietnam
opened up to the outside world, foreign donors and government aid
agencies, as well as INGOs, rushed to assist Vietnam by applying
their own models of development. These models incorporated the
view that supporting counterpart NGOs was the best way of carving
out space for civil society activity in authoritarian political systems.7
In practice this meant forming partnerships with domestic NGOs
and pursuing "bottom up" approaches that stressed participatory
development and gender and ethnic equality.
By the early 1990s it quickly became evident that there was
an explosion of organizational activity at all levels in Vietnam.8
Mark Sidel developed one of the first typologies to capture the
complexity of this development.9 Sidel classified these groups into
nine categories: (1) newer, more independent policy research and
teaching groups; (2) Ho Chi Minh City and other southern social
activism and social service networks; (3) quasi-public/quasi-private
and private universities and other educational institutions; (4) senior
leader-supported patronage groups supporting training and research
projects; (5) professional and business associations; (6) peasant
associations and collectives; (7) state-recognized and unrecognized
religious groups, temples and churches; (8) traditional Party-led
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 5
mass organizations and trade unions; and (9) political activism
groups challenging the Party and state. Sidel explicitly rejected the
use of NGO as a collective term to describe these groups; instead
he classified them as "newer policy- and development-orientated
initiatives and groups".10
Writing in the same year, this author developed a typology
that classified Vietnamese associations into one of nine categories:
political, mass organization, business, commercial and professional,
science and technology, arts and culture, social welfare/NGO,
religious, friendly associations and public affairs.11 In 2003, two
other typologies were developed. Wischermann and Vinh identified
four categories (mass, professional, business and issue-orientated
organizations),12 while Vasavakul identified five categories (political-
professional, mass, popular, non-state research institutes and centres
and non-governmental organizations).13
These typologies have in many respects been overtaken by the
rapid growth of non-government voluntary (or non-profit) associations
at grassroots level. These groups are collectively referred to by
foreign scholars as "community-based organizations" (CBOs). CBOs
have taken a leading role in managing natural resources, combating
environmental pollution, promoting development for a sustainable
livelihood, income generation and disseminating knowledge. Examples
of community-based organizations include: water users group, small
savings and credit associations, user groups, farmers cooperatives, other
special purpose cooperatives, medical volunteers, village development
committees and committees for the protection of street children.
In July 2005, it was estimated that there were 140,000 CBOs, in
addition to 3,000 cooperatives (agriculture, fisheries, construction,
sanitation and health care), 1,000 locally registered "NGOs" and
200 charities.
The growth of CBOs put strain on Vietnam's legal system as
it struggled to develop a regulatory framework that was relevant to
such a diversity of groups. What resulted was a patchwork of ad hoc
regulations and laws that did not add up to a comprehensive legal
framework to govern the establishment, registration and operations
of CBOs.14 Some CBOs operated relatively independently of the
state but their ambiguous legal status always put them at risk due
to political sensitivities.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the
World Bank came to Vietnam with the explicit aim of supporting
civil society through partnerships with local counterparts. INGOs
also included the promotion of civil society as part of their mission
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6 Carlyle A. Thayer
statements in order to attract government funding for their overseas
activities. In sum, organizations that were part of the UN system, as
well as foreign aid donors and INGOs, quickly engaged at various
levels with mass organizations and their affiliates even though these
organizations were not true NGOs in the western sense of the term.
These organizations are extensions of, if not agents of, the state.
Most foreign scholars uncritically apply the terms NGO to the
wide variety of groups, associations and organizations included in
the above typologies and refer to this ensemble of associations and
organizations as "civil society".15
According to Joseph Hannah, the Marxist-Leninist model of
society comprises three parts: party, government and the people (see
Chart l).16 A well-known Vietnamese slogan states: "The party leads,
the people rule/govern the government manages". In the official view,
Vietnamese citizens are permitted to form their own associations,
such as home village societies, surname associations, pigeon racing
Chart 1
Marxist-Leninist View of People's Associations
Source: Joseph Hannah, Local Non-Government Organizations in Vietnam: Development,
Civil Society and State-Society Relations (Seattle: Ph.D. dissertation, University of
Washington, 2007), p. 54.
"Three Bubble Model"
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 7
clubs and sports teams. These groups are viewed as "of the people"
and are officially termed "popular associations". Nonetheless, both
Vietnamese authorities and Vietnamese mass organizations, eager
to attract funding and support from abroad, describe themselves as
NGOs.17 This has effectively dovetailed with the focus of foreign
donors and INGOs to create civil society in Vietnam by narrowly
focusing on so-called local development NGOs.
The approach adopted by UN agencies, INGOs and foreign aid
donors produced a huge demand for civil society-type organizations in
Vietnam. Despite the fact that Vietnamese domestic organizations are
state-sponsored and funded, and formed part of the VFF organizational
matrix, they were termed "non-governmental organizations" by their
foreign counterparts. Vietnamese officialdom shies away from using
the term NGO when addressing a domestic audience but has no
such reservations when dealing with foreign counterparts. Salemink
suggests that one reason is when NGO is literally translated into
Vietnamese [to chuc phi chinh phu ) it sounds very much like
the Vietnamese word for anarchy, vo chinh phu.18 In other words,
in Vietnamese the term NGO implies estrangement from, if not
opposition to, the state.
Vietnamese NGOs view their role quite differently from their
foreign counterparts. First, they see themselves as partners working
on development projects in support of state policy. Second, they view
themselves as advocates for improved state services. And finally, they
view themselves as representative of marginalized groups and lobby
the state for changes in policy. In this role Vietnamese NGOs attempt
to negotiate and educate state officials rather than confront them as
a tactic to bring about change. In other words, their activities are
in direct support of existing government programmes or in support
of larger state-approved policy goals (national development or
poverty alleviation). For example, the leaders of Vietnamese NGOs
are frequently in contact with foreign companies that operate in
Vietnam, local and foreign companies that own and run factories,
and the workers that are employed. Vietnamese NGOs have sought to
advance the health and well being of the workers in a manner that
avoided confrontation or militant tactics. As Hannah has observed,
"there is no social space for anti-sweat shop movements coming from
local organizations".19 Vietnamese NGOs have kept their activities
within the letter of the law.
There are an estimated thirty plus centres offering their services
to assist with development projects or applied research.20 These
research centres are formed and managed by academics who are
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8 Carlyle A. Thayer
affiliated with universities, provincial departments or professional
associations such as the Association of Ethnologists or the Association
of Folk Lore Studies.21 Nevertheless, these research centers have a
weak legal status. These centres are self-contained and do not open
membership to the community as do traditional NGOs.
Most centres are registered as sub-associations under Decree
35/CP (1992) which covers science and technology associations.22
These centres are essentially non-profit organizations that engage
broadly in socio-economic development in cooperation with foreign
donors. They are able to operate because of personal relations
between their leaders and government officials.23 Another category
of NGO comprises the local staff of international NGOs that perform
services similar to a research centre.24 However, because they are
not officially registered they have a dubious legal status.
The Vietnamese mono-organizational state has been in retreat
since the 1990s, as many state services have been commercialized.
It was in this context that so-called Vietnamese NGOs began to
emerge to deliver services that were no longer provided by the
state. Increasingly, this space has been occupied by INGOs at the
expense of local development NGOs.25
The explosion of associational activity in Vietnam in the 1990s
not only quickly spilled over the confines of the mono-organizational
socialist model but outpaced Vietnamese legal statutes relating to
popular organizations. In 1992, at the initiative of international donors,
the Ministry of Home Affairs began drafting legislation on non-profit
groups to govern the rapidly expanding private associational activity
that was taking place. This proved to be a vexed matter and after
seven years no agreement could be reached.26 In 1995, Vietnamese
authorities began drafting a law on non-profit groups; by early 1996
the draft had been revised more than twenty times.27
In 2002, Vietnamese officials attempted to draft a law on NGOs.
By July 2005 the draft had been revised at least ten times and
re-titled Law on Associations.28 This draft law does not cover so-
called Vietnamese NGOs. The adoption of the Law on Associations
has been delayed by spirited lobbying by national professional and
business associations to amend its provisions.
In 2002, 181 INGOs officially operated in Vietnam and through
their sheer presence quickly dominated the space for civil society.29 It
became commonplace among foreign aid donors and INGOs to refer
to "civil society" in Vietnam and to identify so-called Vietnamese
NGOs as key building blocks. As noted above, this is misleading
because Vietnamese groups that interacted with foreign counterparts
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 9
were invariably extensions of the state or state-run/controlled mass
organizations and special interest groups.
There is no agreed definition of civil society in the academic
community (see Chart 2). 30 Mary Kaldor has identified five different
conceptions of civil society: societas civilis, bourgeois society,
neo-liberal, activist and post-Modern version.31 There is general
agreement, however, that the word "civil" refers to civility or non-
violence. But there is disagreement about whether non-violent activity
should conform to the law because in authoritarian states, such as
Vietnam, the law is explicitly used to suppress such activity. Can
civil society truly exist in a country that lacks democratic structures
and processes?
The activist conception of civil society emerged with the collapse
of socialism in Eastern Europe through the efforts of Charter 77 in
Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland. In this context, civil society
was promoted as the means to advance democracy and freedom,
Chart 2
Classical Depiction of Civil Society
Source: Joseph Hannah, Local Non-Government Organizations in Vietnam: Development,
Civil Society and State-Society Relations (Seattle: Ph.D. dissertation, University of
Washington, 2007), p. 53.
■Wm PF*" Market c a; o -a
PF*" o
' <"
Family/Individual ®
' . - ■ f
"Four Bubble Model"
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10 Carlyle A. Thayer
balance the power of the state and private sector, and enhance the
efficiency, accountability and good governance of the state.32 As will
be noted below, overseas Vietnamese pro-democracy groups advocate
the development of "civil society" as part of their strategy to end
authoritarian communist one-party rule in Vietnam.
What does civil society mean in the Vietnamese context? North
American scholars, members of the Vietnam Studies Group affiliated
with the Association of Asian Studies, after debating how civil
society should be translated into Vietnamese, concluded there was
no exact equivalent. These scholars further noted that several of the
approximate equivalents that were being used had quite different
connotations from their western meaning.33
The term civil society is not widely used in academic and
official discourse in Vietnam. Two Vietnamese expressions - xa hoi
dan su and xa hoi cong dan - are commonly used as equivalents
for civil society. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs is currently
studying how the terms NGO and civil society should be officially
translated. Neither term is used in official documents when referring
to Vietnamese domestic organizations; groups that foreigners refer to
as NGOs are classified as popular associations. There is evidence
that grassroots Vietnamese NGOs are contesting this interpretation.
The term civil society has two distinct meanings in the current
Vietnamese context.34 The first is an economic meaning that views
civil society in terms of service delivery by local development
NGOs. In this context the promotion of civil society is viewed as
being closely linked to international benefactors and their agendas.
This is so because in Vietnam's mono-organizational system there is
no domestic civil society sector that is independent or autonomous
from the direct control of the state.
The second meaning of civil society in a Vietnamese context
is political. According to Hoang Ngoc Giao this meaning includes
political associations such as those affiliated with the VFF.35 Since
the 1990s, civil society has taken on a new meaning in Vietnam.
Dissidents have appropriated the term civil society in order to
promote liberal democracy. Civil society in this context refers to
the creation of public space where Vietnam's one-party state can
be challenged by the non-violent political mobilization of ordinary
citizens. Political activist Lu Phuong argues, for example, "the
campaign to raise a civil society will also become a campaign for
law, freedom and basic human rights".36 In sum, civil society in
its political sense refers to the struggle for democracy against the
authoritarian Vietnamese state.
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 11
The notion of political civil society is not held widely in
Vietnam.37 When the term civil society is used in discussions with
foreigners it generally refers to Vietnamese organizations closely
linked to the state. These organizations try to pass themselves off
as "genuine" civil society groups out of self-interest.
The Rise of Political Civil Society
Over the past four to five years there has been a marked change in
the nature of political civil society in Vietnam. Previously, political
dissidents and religious activists acted individually or in small
cliques isolated from each other.38 But in recent years there has
been a concerted effort to form explicitly political organizations
dedicated to the promotion of democracy, human rights and religious
freedom. An unprecedented number of political organizations have
been formed.39 These groups are considered illegal by the state and
therefore have no standing in Vietnam's one-party political system.
Among the new political organizations are:
• People's Democratic Party of Vietnam (PDP). It was founded in
2004 after five-years of Internet networking by Cong Thanh Do,
a Vietnamese-American living in California, with like-minded
Vietnamese in Vietnam. Do used the pseudonym Tran Nam. The
PDP's network included leaders of the United Workers-Farmers
Association (see below). Do was arrested on 14 August 2006
in Phan Thiet and charged with plotting to blow up the US
Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. This charge was later amended
to disseminating anti-government leaflets. Do served one month
in jail before he was deported. Shortly after Do's arrest, six
Vietnamese-based PDP members were arrested. They were tried
by the People's Court in Ho Chi Minh City. Party Chairman,
Dr Le Nguyen Sang, journalist Huynh Nguyen Dao and lawyer
Nguyen Bac Truyen, were sentenced to five, four and three years
• Vietnam Populist Party (VPP, Dang Vi Dan ).40 Originally a group
of Vietnamese exiles in the United States who later adopted the
name VPP. The VPP was founded in Houston by Nguyen Cong
Bang. During 2005 members of the VPP established contact with
Vietnamese in Vietnam including the United Workers-Farmers
Association (see below). Bang advised the United Workers-
Farmers Association to keep a low profile while building up an
underground network. Bang argued that a more proactive stance
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12 Carlyle A. Thayer
would invite repression and dampen recruitment. The VPP attracted
only a small membership in Vietnam. At least three members
were arrested in 2007: Rev. Hong Tung, the party's representative
in Vietnam (February); journalist Truong Minh Due (May); and
student Dang Hung (July).
• Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV) was founded in June 2006
as a political discussion group by Hoang Minh Chinh. Also
known as the Twenty-first Century Democracy Party (DP XI).
The Democratic Party of Vietnam claims that it is the reactivated
Vietnam Democratic Party (VDP) founded in 1944, which was
one of two non-communist parties to be represented in the
National Assembly until it was dissolved in 1985. Chinh was
the Moscow-trained former head of the Institute of Philosophy.
He was accused of being a pro-Soviet revisionist, imprisoned
and then released in 1967. He continued to advocate political
change and was jailed again in 1981 and 1995.
Chinh had been Secretary General of the VDP from 1951-56.
He sought to revive the legacy of the VDP by appealing to Ho Chi
Minh's brand of nationalism, a stance which alienated younger
dissidents. The DPV may have had about a dozen members mainly
in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Chinh was given permission to
travel to the United States in 2005 for medical treatment. While
in the US he testified before the House International Relations
Committee and strongly criticized the regime's handling of
religious and political dissent. On his return to Vietnam he was
publicly vilified and attacked by pro-regime supporters.41 Lawyer
Bui Thi Kim Thanh was detained in Ho Chi Minh City in the
crackdown surrounding the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC) summit and forcibly committed to Bien Hoa Central
Psychiatric Hospital.
• Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam founded by lawyer Nguyen
Van Dai. In June 2007, Truong Minh Nguyet and two other activists
were arrested for distributing reactionary propaganda in violation
of Article 258 of the Penal Code. Nguyet was sentenced by the
Dong Nai province court to two years imprisonment for spreading
anti-state propaganda. Nguyet, a member of the Committee for
Human Rights in Vietnam, had used the Internet to express her
views on Vietnam's economic and political situation.
• Free Journalists Association of Vietnam (FJAV) was set up by
a group of overseas Vietnamese and includes an underground
network of bloggers and dissident journalists inside Vietnam.
This network gathers and disseminates news that is censored in
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 13
Vietnam. In 2006, the FJAV attempted to establish an independent
online news publication based in Vietnam with funds from the
US National Endowment for Democracy. Vietnamese security
officials detained and interrogated many FJAV activists and have
barred at least one member from travelling abroad to attend an
international conference focused on freedom of expression.
• Bloc 8406 was founded on 8 April 2006 (more later).
• Vietnam Progression Party (VPP) was founded on 8 September
2006 by Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Phong, Nguyen Binh Thanh
and Hoang Thi Anh Dao. Father Nguyen Van Ly was named
adviser. Le Thi Cong Nhan is an English-speaking lawyer hired
by the British Embassy to defend a Vietnamese-British woman
accused of drug smuggling. Cong Nhan was a signatory of the
Bloc 8406 appeal. The other founders of the VPP were all based
in Hue. The VPP represented a younger generation of political
dissidents who rejected Ho Chi Minh's legacy. The VPP issued
an Interim Political Platform on 8 September 2006 that called
for a multi-party democracy, religious freedom, general elections
and protection of private property. In 2007, the VPP joined with
the Vietnam Populist Party /For the People Party and formed the
Lac Hong Group.
• Vietnam Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights was formed
on 16 October 2006 between Bloc 8406 and the Unified Buddhist
Church of Vietnam. The Alliance was modelled on Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in Myanmar. This
was reputedly the biggest dissident movement seen in Vietnam
since the unification of the country in 1975.
• Independent Labour Union of Vietnam (ILUV) was founded on
20 October 2006 reportedly Vietnam's first independent trade
union. Nguyen Khac Toan was identified as president of the
interim executive committee consisting of eleven commissioners:
Nguyen Cong Ly, Ngo Cong Quynh, Nguyen Thi Huong, Tran
Hoang Duong, Pham Sy Thien, Nguyen Xuan Dao, Tran Huyen
Thanh, Luong Hoai Nam, Le Chi Dung, Tran Khai Thanh Thuy
and Tran Quoc Thu. The ILUV listed three broad purposes: to
protect the legitimate rights of Vietnamese workers; to provide
assistance to needy workers who become sick or disabled; and
to promote solidarity among all workers.
• United Workers-Farmers Association (UWFA) was founded on
30 October 2006 by Nguyen Tan Hoanh and Tran Thi Le Hang.
Both already had reputations as labour strike activists. During its
organizational phase, members of what became the UWFA, had
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14 Carlyle A. Thayer
contact with the Houston-based Vietnam Populist Party. After
differences emerged over tactics, the UWFA developed ties with
another US-based group, People's Democratic Party, and adopted
a more proactive stance modelled on the Polish Solidarity
movement. However, the tactic of going public invited repression.
By mid-December 2006, after the APEC summit in Hanoi, ten of
the UWFA's leading officials were placed in detention. By 2007,
the UWFA had been forced to go underground.
• Lac Hong Group, formed in February 2007, was a coalition
between the Vietnam Populist Party and the Vietnam Progression
Generally, the political groups discussed above lacked a large
geographically dispersed membership base. Their self-description as
a "political party" was problematic. However, in 2006, Vietnam's
network of pro-democracy activists and groups coalesced into an
identifiable political movement, marking a new development in
Vietnamese politics.42 This political network issued a number of
statements that called upon the Vietnamese state to respect basic
human rights and religious freedom and to permit citizens to freely
associate and form their own political parties.43 On 6 April 2006,
116 persons issued an Appeal for Freedom of Political Association
that they distributed throughout Vietnam via the Internet. On 8 April,
118 persons issued a Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for
Vietnam.44 These pro-democracy advocates became known as Bloc
8406 after the date of their founding manifesto.
Members of Bloc 8406 produced a fortnightly publication,
Tu Do Ngon Luan (Free Speech) that first appeared on 15 April 2006.
A typical issue comprised thirty pages of text. Tu Do Ngon Luan
was published in A4 format in both hard copy and electronically.
The online version was published as a portable document file
that facilitated its dissemination. Tu Do Ngon Luan was edited
by three Catholic priests, Nguyen Van Ly, Phan Van Loi and
Chan Tin.
Bloc 8406 represents a diverse network of professionals widely
dispersed throughout the country. Among the signatories of the
manifesto 31 per cent were teachers and lecturers, 14 per cent were
Catholic priests, 13 per cent were university professors, 7 per cent
were writers, 6 per cent were medical doctors with the remaining
29 per cent composed of intellectuals, engineers, nurses, Hoa Hao
religious leaders, businessmen, army veterans, technicians, ordinary
citizens and a lawyer.
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 15
Bloc 8406 is predominately an urban-centred network, with
over half the signatories residing in Hue (38 per cent) and Ho Chi
Minh City (15 per cent), with additional concentrations in Hai
Phong, Hanoi, Da Nang and Can Tho. These four nodes account
equally for 30 per cent of the signatories.45 The remainder of Bloc
8406 members are geographically dispersed throughout Vietnam in
six locations: Bac Ninh, Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, Quang Ngai, Vung
Tau and Vinh Long.
The APEC summit in November 2006 included a leadership
meeting of heads of state and government. Because world attention
was focused on Hanoi, the response by security officials towards
Bloc 8406 was initially circumspect. The police harassed several of
the more prominent signatories of the 8 April manifesto. Their home
phones were disconnected and they were placed under surveillance.
Others were picked up for interrogation and detained for varying
periods. Employers were pressured to terminate their employment.
Police also raided the homes of other prominent dissidents and
seized computers, cell phones and personal files.
Police actions provoked a public protest by democracy advocates.
On 30 April, Bloc 8406 issued a letter condemning police actions
signed by 178 supporters. By 8 May, the number of persons
subscribing to the manifesto grew to 424; and by the year's end
foreign observers were reporting that the support base for Bloc 8406
had expanded to over two thousand, many under the age of thirty.46
Bloc 8406 members have attempted to evade detection by utilizing
digital telephone and encryption technology on websites provided by
Voice Over Internet Protocol providers such as PalTalk, Skype and
Yahoo! Messenger.47 These websites have been utilized to organize
chatroom discussions within Vietnam as well as overseas.
On 22 August 2006, Bloc 8406 publicly announced a four-phase
proposal for democratization including the restoration of civil liberties,
establishment of political parties, drafting of a new constitution
and democratic elections for a representative National Assembly.48
On 12 October 2006, members of Bloc 8406 issued an open letter
to the leaders of the APEC leadership summit asking their help in
promoting democracy in Vietnam. Four days later, Bloc 8406 attempted
to transform itself into a political movement by uniting with the
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam in the Vietnam Alliance for
Democracy and Human Rights mentioned earlier.
Prior to the APEC summit, police sealed off the homes of leading
Bloc members and restricted their movements. At the same time,
members of the United Workers-Farmers Association were arrested
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16 Carlyle A. Thayer
and later put on trial. After the APEC summit, Vietnam began a
concerted effort to repress Bloc 8406. Seven members of Bloc 8406,
including lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, were
arrested, tried and convicted in March-April 2007. Their sentences
were slightly reduced in December.
Other political activists were arrested and put on trial during
the year, most notably Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly. Bloc
8406's leadership appears to have been effectively decapitated by
Vietnam's security apparatus. Many of the signatories of the Bloc
8406's appeal, manifesto and petitions have been silent in the face
of regime repression. This was especially notable on the 2007 and
2008 anniversaries of Bloc 8406's founding which passed without
notable incident.
In June-July 2007, farmers primarily from Tien Giang province
conducted a protracted public protest over land grievances. They
gathered in Ho Chi Minh City near the local offices of the National
Assembly. They were joined by supporters from seven other Mekong
Delta provinces. Several aspects of these events were unprecedented:
the large numbers involved, the diversity of provinces represented
and the length of time they were permitted to demonstrate and
display their banners in public.
The Tien Giang demonstration received real time coverage through
an overseas dissident network. Several of the protesters gave live
interviews over their mobile phones to foreign journalists in Hanoi
and New Horizon Radio operated by the Vietnam Reform Party.
Photos of the banners held by the peasants were available via the
Vietnam Reform Party's website. Eventually the protracted Tien Giang
peasant demonstration was ended when security officials rounded up
and bundled off the protesters in the middle of the night. What was
new about these protests was that they attracted the moral support
from Bloc 8406 and were publicly addressed by Thich Quang Do
of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
On the face of it Bloc 8406 and the associated political civil
society organizations that emerged in 2006 appear to have suffered
the same fate as political dissidents in the 1990s. However, an
additional element must be added to this analysis - the role of
overseas Vietnamese pro-democracy activists who have begun to
reach out to their countrymen to provide finance, political support
and a range of new tactics to confront the one-party state.49 The key
- but by no means only - organization in this new development
is the Vietnam Reform Party ( Viet Nam Canh Tan Cach Mang Dang )
or Viet Tan.50
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 17
The Viet Tan claims it seeks to promote democracy in Vietnam
by non-violent means, while the Vietnamese media has depicted it
as a terrorist organization.51 Both the Vietnamese state-controlled
media and the Viet Tan are in agreement about the basic history
of the Viet Tan. The founder of the Viet Tan was Hoang Co Minh,
a former Republic of Vietnam Navy Admiral. Minh founded the
National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (NUFLV) on
30 April 1980. He later established the Viet Tan on 10 September
1982. Both the NUFLV and the Viet Tan aimed to overthrow the
Vietnamese communist government through violent means.
Both Vietnamese authorities and Hoang Co Minh supporters agree
that the NUFLV carried out acts of armed subversion in Vietnam by
infiltrating its members through Laos and Cambodia. A member of
the Vietnam Reform Party has also indicated that during the period
of clandestine activity (1982-94), members of Viet Tan living in
Vietnam carried weapons.52 Vietnam charges that the Viet Tan was
engaged in armed violence as late as 2002 when it hired criminals
to assassinate government officials.
On 19 September 2004, it was announced that the NUFLV
had been disbanded and that the Viet Tan would now conduct its
activities in public.53 Leaders of the Viet Tan released a programme
that stressed that peaceful means would be used to achieve democracy
in Vietnam in cooperation with other like-minded groups. Since 2004,
the Viet Tan has become active in lobbying politicians in Australia,
Europe and the United States.
During the final quarter of 2006, the Viet Tan members in the
United States actively lobbied the administration of President George
W. Bush to raise human rights issues at the APEC summit in Hanoi
in November. A member of Viet Tan addressed the Congressional
Human Rights Caucus. Viet Tan also lobbied international donors
to link transparency and accountability with their aid programmes
in Vietnam. In March 2007, Viet Tan organized international
rallies to protest the wave of political repression then underway
in Vietnam.
In late March and early April 2007, a barrage of articles
appeared in the Vietnamese state-controlled press that described the
Viet Tan as a terrorist organization. But these articles only carried
details of NUFLV activities before it was disbanded and provided
no details of Viet Tan activities after September 2004. Indeed, when
the Vietnamese media turned to current developments the Viet Tan
was reported to have set up law firms, businesses and micro-credit
programmes to generate funds to finance its activities in Vietnam.
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18 Carlyle A. Thayer
Viet Tan was also charged with calling for a boycott of Vietnamese
commodities and air services. All of these alleged activities were
distinctly non-violent in nature.
Vietnamese security officials deliberately conflate all acts of
political protest against the Vietnamese state, including peaceful
protest and political violence, and label them terrorism. It is also
unclear when Vietnamese authorities designated Viet Tan as a terrorist
organization and under what legislation.
The events of 2006-07 demonstrate that political civil society
groups in Vietnam are growing in size and number and are becoming
increasingly networked. Political dissent is taking on a greater
organizational form with the appearance of nascent political parties
and trade unions as well as special interests groups representing
independent journalists, human rights advocates and former political
prisoners. The still born alliance between Bloc 8406 and the Unified
Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and the formation of the Lac Hong
Group represents evidence that the compartmentalization between
dissident groups of the past is now breaking down.
However, there is no discernable evidence that the pro-democracy
movement is gaining traction or coalescing into a significant force
able to mount a major challenge to Vietnam's one-party state.
The leadership of Bloc 8406 and associated political civil society
organizations has been decapitated by Vietnam's public security
apparatus and its members driven underground. Nonetheless these
developments are harbingers of the future. The emergence of the
Viet Tan (and other overseas-based groups), and Viet Tan's pursuit of
non-violent change, has resulted in the provision of training, funds
and other resources for political civil society groups in Vietnam. In
December 2006 and November 2007, for example, the arrest and
trial of Viet Tan activists was evidence that the Viet Tan was able
to conduct activities in Vietnam.
Civil Society Challenges to Vietnam's One-Party System
Chart 3 sets out a schema that identifies civil society roles for
groups and organizations that are currently active in Vietnam. The
vast majority of civil society groups identified in this article are
clustered on the right side of the chart. Most Vietnamese groups and
organizations that have been identified as forming civil society are
in fact closely linked or attached to the one-party state. They work
as partners in implementing state policy in the provision of welfare,
social services and poverty alleviation measures. Over time these
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 19
Chart 3
Spectrum of Civil Society Roles
Source: Joseph Hannah, Local Non-Government Organizations in Vietnam: Development,
Civil Society and State-Society Relations (Seattle: Ph.D. dissertation, University of
Washington, 2007), p. 93.
groups have also expanded their role to acting as advocates for their
constituents by suggesting changes in how policy is implemented.
And most recently, several of these so-called civil society groups
have become active in lobbying for policy change.
Vietnam has not yet developed civil society groups that act as
watchdogs to expose corruption by party cadres and government
officials. The exposure of corruption has largely been in the hands of
intrepid journalists who work for what might be termed progressive
newspapers, such as Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre. The Vietnamese
media played a prominent role in exposing a corruption scandal by
a Project Management Unit (PMU) in the Ministry of Transport on
the eve of the Tenth National Party Congress in 2006. But senior
officials soon intervened and called a halt to unfettered media
reporting. In June 2008, after the exoneration of the Deputy Minister
of Transport in March, two reporters associated with Tuoi Tre and
Thanh Nien attempted to raise the PMU scandal again. In May, the
two journalists and their police informants were arrested, charged
and convicted of abuse of power. In August, there was a further
crackdown on the press, when the credentials of seven journalists
Some Possible Civil Society Roles
jjjlj^^ Advocacy
Opposition Lobbying ' • Welfare, social
• Civil disobedience / I ' ^ ' services provision
• Mass demonstrations/ ^ ' • Anti-novprtv
/ • For policy change ' H y
/ J ' measures
/ • Monitoring State ' * "shadow state"
' effectiveness '
• Opposition press • Exposing corrupt * constituents
• Public criticism of officials or * For changes in policy
policies and/or regime practices implementation
• "secondary beneficiaries"
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20 Carlyle A. Thayer
and editors from four newspapers were revoked. In October two
editors working for Dai Doan Ket, the official organ of the VFF,
were dismissed.
Generally, foreign scholarship on Vietnam has shied away from
researching the activities of civil society groups depicted on the left
hand side of Chart 3. 54 Because Vietnam does not permit privately
owned newspapers or other media, Vietnam does not have an
opposition press that criticizes both government policies and the one-
party political system.55 Such criticism is largely confined to limited
circulation news sheets distributed by pro-democracy dissidents. In
recent years, the Internet has served as the most important conduit
for opposition views. In addition, the Viet Tan operates New Horizon
Radio that beams Vietnamese-language broadcasts into Vietnam.
This article has documented the emergence of political civil
society groups that have taken up role on the left hand side of
Chart 3. These groups have not yet engaged in direct civil disobedience
or mass demonstrations against the government. To date these groups
have confined themselves to public criticism of Vietnam's one-party
state for not permitting political and religious freedom as well as
human rights.
The main question for the future is what impact will the emergence
of political civil society have on Vietnam's one-party state?
Vietnam's accomplishments after twenty-two years of doi moi
are undeniable. Vietnam has achieved remarkable economic growth
accompanied by notable success in reducing rates of poverty. Vietnam
has maintained internal stability throughout its transition process
through a stable transfer of power to a younger generation at each
national party congress. The process of political change has been
both gradual and measured.
Straight-line extrapolations of continued high economic growth
and political stability, however, must take into account the cross
currents of political dissent and economic grievance that have emerged
in recent years. In addition to peasant and Catholic protests over
land issues and public concern over endemic corruption, Vietnam's
current inflationary spiral has generated measurable discontent
among the public at large, particularly in urban areas. Vietnam's
textile and garment industries have experienced a rising number
of wildcat strikes.
Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has experienced an explosive
growth of associational activity particularly at grassroots level by
community-based organizations. In recent years, in urban areas
especially, Vietnam has witnessed the creation of an increasing
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 21
number of political advocacy groups on such issues as human
rights, democracy and religious freedom. These associations can be
expected to play even greater roles in the coming years.
In 2006, pro-democracy groups began to coalesce into an
identifiable movement known as Bloc 8406. It is evident that not
only has a political network developed, but that there is growing
cross-fertilization on some issues. This trend is likely to continue
in the future as the pro-democracy agenda of political civil society
expands to embrace peasant grievances, labour issues, human rights,
religious freedom and ethnic minority rights. Vietnam's domestic
activists can expect to receive increased support from their compatriots
and other pro-democracy groups abroad.
Over the next few years Vietnam faces the prospects of a
slowdown in growth rates after a decade of considerable success. The
legitimacy of Vietnam's one-party state largely rests on performance
legitimacy, that is, success in delivering economic growth and political
stability to society at large. Vietnam's current economic woes as
well as endemic corruption are undermining performance as the
basis of regime legitimacy. Other forms of political legitimacy, such
as nationalism and charismatic leadership, have receded with time.
Vietnam's one-party state lacks popular sovereignty through free and
fair democratic elections as the basis of its legitimacy.
Vietnam's one-party system is likely to be heavily challenged in
the future to make good its goal of creating a "law-governed state".
Political civil society groups will press the party-state to make good
on constitutional provisions providing for "freedom of opinion and
speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right
to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance
with the provisions of the law" (Article 69) as well as provisions
of Article 70 that provide for freedom of religion. The future is
likely to witness multiple sites of contestation - in the National
Assembly, Vietnam Fatherland Front and Vietnam Communist Party
itself - as political civil society groups press their agenda.
Five patterns of political change may provide useful frameworks
for considering what may lie ahead:56
• Status quo: Elements of the ruling elite fight to remain in power
through repressive measures and foot dragging. Maintaining the
status quo appears untenable in light of socio-economic change
now underway.
• Authoritarian rule: Economic downturn coupled with political
instability could lead to a reversion of authoritarian rule. However,
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22 Carlyle A. Thayer
past patterns of political and social change strongly suggest that
this will be impossible and could well result in a split within
the VCR
• Replacement: Opposition groups take the lead. This pattern appears
least likely because the opposition at present is miniscule and
does not have widespread public support. The opposition is also
vulnerable to state repression.
• Transplacement: Joint action by elements of the power elite and
elements of the opposition. This pattern seems unlikely in the
short-term due to the weakness of the opposition but could well
be a viable pattern over the long-term.
• Transformation: The elite in power initiates change. The evidence
suggests that Vietnam's leaders are negotiating among themselves
the pace and scope of change. Vietnam is clearly liberalizing but
not democratizing; but pressures from below could prompt some
Party elites to initiate further political change.
The central theme of this article is that the emergence of political
civil society represents a major new development in Vietnamese
domestic politics. Heretofore foreign academics have focused their
attention on "everyday politics" and so-called civil society groups
in Vietnam. This research has generated new insights into the
changing nature of Vietnamese society and state-society relations
during the reform period. In 2006-07 a variety of self-proclaimed
political parties and nascent trade unions coalesced into a political
movement, Bloc 8406, and in an unprecedented development
directly confronted the hegemony of one-party rule in Vietnam. In
contrast, "everyday politics" and civil society approaches focus on
microscopic challenges to state authority and offer few insights into
the possibilities of political change in the future.
This article has argued that the identification of Vietnamese "non-
governmental organizations" with civil society is misleading for two
reasons. First, Vietnamese NGOs are largely extensions of the state.
Second, contemporary academic focus on popular associations and
community-based organizations as constituting civil society focuses
almost exclusively on developmental politics to the exclusion of
groups advocating democratic political change.
This article argues that the role of political civil society in
Vietnam is likely to become more important for at least two main
reasons. First, despite state repression, Bloc 8406 has succeeded
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 23
in demonstrating the political efficacy of networking and cross-
fertilization by like-minded groups that espouse religious freedom,
human rights and liberal democracy. Second, there has been a marked
rise in support for political civil society by overseas Vietnamese.
They have eschewed violence and now offer financial support and
political guidance.
Over the next few years Vietnam's one-party state will face
major challenges to performance as the basis of its legitimacy. It
is already clear that endemic corruption, environmental pollution
and a decline in economic growth rates are producing strains
within Vietnam's mono-organizational system and within the ruling
Party itself.
This article concludes by noting that political change in Vietnam
will be significantly determined by how Vietnam's one-party state
manages the challenges posed by political civil society. Among
the five scenarios mapped out, only two appear plausible. One
possibility is transplacement, that is, joint action by members of the
ruling elite acting in concert with elements of political civil society
in the long term. The most likely scenario is transformation, that
is, elements within the VCP leadership take the lead in initiating
political change.
1 Such as the Association of Former Political Prisoners, Committee for Human
Rights in Vietnam, Free Journalists Association of Vietnam, and Vietnam Political
and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association.
2 Note the absence of any discussion of political civil society groups in Forms of
Engagement Between State Agencies & Civil Society Organizations in Vietnam:
Study Report (Hanoi: VUFO-NGO Resource Centre, December 2008). This report
was prepared for the international donor community and was funded by the
Finnish Department for International Development. As will become apparent
in the discussion below, the term Vietnamese NGO is used advisedly. I would
prefer to preface it with the words "so-called" or put NGO in quotation marks.
But for stylistic reasons I have limited these descriptors.
3 Carlyle A. Thayer, "Political Dissent and Political Reform in Vietnam, 1997-2002",
in The Power of Ideas: Intellectual Input and Political Change in East and
Southeast Asia, edited by Claudia Derichs and Thomas Heberer (Copenhagen:
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2006), pp. 115-32.
4 Carlyle A. Thayer, "Mono-Organizational Socialism and the State", in Vietnam's
Rural Transformation, edited by Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet and Doug J. Porter
(Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 39-64.
5 Bach Tan Sinh, "Civil Society and NGOs in Vietnam: Some Initial Thoughts
on Developments and Obstacles", paper presented to the meeting with the
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24 Carlyle A. Thayer
Delegation of the Swedish Parliamentary Commission on Swedish Policy for
Global Development to Vietnam, Hanoi, 2 March 2001, p. 4.
6 Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong, "Civil Society in Vietnam: Moving
from the Margins to the Mainstream" (CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen
Participation, July 2005), p. 4
7 Oscar Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in
Vietnam: A Tale of Calculated Misunderstandings", in Development Brokers and
Translators: The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies , edited by David Lewis and
David Mosse (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press Inc., 2006), p. 102.
8 An empirical survey conducted in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City recorded more
than 700 "civic organizations", most of which had been established after 1986;
Joerg Wischermann and Nguyen Quang Vinh, "The Relationship between Civic
and Govenmental Organizations in Vietnam: Selected Findings", in Getting
Organized in Vietnam: Moving in and around the Socialist State , edited by Ben
J. Tria Kerkvliet, Russell H.K. Heng, and David W.H. Koh (Singapore: Institute
of Southeast Asian Studies, 2003), p. 186.
9 Mark Sidel, "The Emergence of a Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy in the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam", in Emerging Civil Society in the Asia Pacific
Community, edited by Tadashi Yamamoto (Singapore: Institute of Southeast
Asian Studies, 1995), pp. 294-96.
10 Ibid., 293-94.
11 Thayer, "Mono-Organizational Socialism and the State", op. cit., p. 54.
12 Wischermann and Vinh, "The Relationship between Civic and Governmental
Organizations in Vietnam", op. cit., p. 186.
13 Thaveeporn Vasavakul, "From Fence-Breaking to Networking: Interests, Popular
Organizations, and Policy Influences in Post-Socialist Vietnam", in Getting
Organized in Vietnam, edited by Kerkvliet, Heng and Koh op. cit., pp. 26-28.
14 Key legal documents included: Decree 35/CP (1992), "On Some Measures
to Encourage Scientific and Technological Activities"; Decree 29/1998/ND-CP
(11 May 1998); Decree 71/1998/ND-CP (8 September 1998); Decree 07/1999/ND-
CP (13 February 1999); Decree 177 (1999) on charity and social funds; and Law
on Science and Technology (2000).
15 Irene Norlund, "Filling the Gap: The Emerging Civil Society in Viet Nam"
(CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, January 2007), p. 11.
16 Joseph Hannah, Local Non-Government Organizations in Vietnam: Development,
Civil Society and State-society Relations, Ph.D. dissertation (Seattle: University
of Washington, 2007), p. 54.
17 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., pp. 117-18.
18 Ibid, p. 106.
19 Joseph Hannah, "Civil-Society Actors and Action in Viet-Nam: Preliminary
Empirical Results and Sketches from an Evolving Debate", in Towards Good
Society: Civil Society Actors, the State and the Business Class in Southeast Asia
- Facilitators of or Impediments to a Strong, Democratic, and Fair Society?
(Berlin: Heinrich Boll Stiftung, 2005), p. 105.
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 25
20 Examples include the Rural Development Services Centre established in 1994;
Social Development Research and Consultancy and Research and Training Centre
for Community Development formed in 1996.
21 Vasavakul, "From Fence-Breaking to Networking", op. cit., p. 28.
22 Hannah, "Civil-Society Actors and Action in Viet-Nam", op. cit., pp. 107-08.
Decree 35/CP was entitled, "Some Measures to Encourage Scientific and
Technological Activities".
23 Kathrin Pedersen quoted in Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing
Civil Society in Vietnam", op. cit., p. 118.
24 Michael Gray, "Creating Civil Society? The Emergence of NGOs in Vietnam",
Development and Change 30, no. 4 (October 1999): 698.
25 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., p. 119.
26 Hannah, "Civil-Society Actors and Action in Viet-Nam", op. cit., p. 107, writes
that attempts to draft a Law on NGOs was a fifteen-year closed door effort.
27 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., p. 120.
28 Hannah, "Civil-Society Actors and Action in Viet-Nam", op. cit., p. 107 and
Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong, "Civil Society in Vietnam: Moving from
the Margins to the Mainstream", op. cit., p. 4.
29 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., pp. 105-06.
30 There is a vast literature on this subject. For an overview see Muthiah Alagappa,
ed., Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting
Democratic Space (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004) and Carlyle A.
Thayer, "Political Reform in Vietnam: Doi Moi and the Emergence of Civil
Society", in The Developments of Civil Society in Communist Systems, edited
by Robert F. Miller (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1992), pp. 110-29.
31 Summarized in Bach Tan Sinh, "Civil Society and NGOs in Vietnam", op. cit.,
pp. 2-3.
32 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., pp. 102-04.
33 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., p. 105 and Hy V. Luong, "The State, Local Associations, and Alternate
Civilities in Rural Northern Vietnam", in Civil Life , Globalization, and Political
Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State, edited by Robert P.
Weller (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 123-47.
34 This section draws on Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil
Society in Vietnam", op. cit., p. 104 and Hoang Ngoc Giao, "Association of
Civil Society in Vietnam", January 2007, p. 1, paper posted on the website of
the Legal Reform Assistance Project <>.
35 Hoang Ngoc Giao, "Association of Civil Society in Vietnam", argues that although
Article 69 of the state constitution permits freedom of association, the activities
of such associations can be curtailed by the state. Giao does not question the
hegemony of Vietnam's one-party system.
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26 Carlyle A. Thayer
36 Lu Phuong, "Xa Hoi Cong Dan: Tu Triet Tieu Den Phuc Hoi", paper prepared
for "Vietnam: Doi Moi, the State and Civil Society", Vietnam Update 1994
Conference, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian
National University, Canberra, 10-11 November 1994. Lu Phuong was prevented
by Vietnamese authorities from attending this conference.
37 Salemink, "Translating, Interpreting, and Practicing Civil Society in Vietnam",
op. cit., pp. 121-22.
38 Thayer, "Political Dissent and Political Reform in Vietnam, 1997-2002", op. cit.
39 This section draws heavily on research carried out by Bill Hayton that will
appear in his forthcoming book, The New Vietnam (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2009). Hayton is the former BBC correspondent stationed in Hanoi.
40 Frequently translated as For the People's Party (FPP).
41 Hoang Minh Chinh passed away on 7 February 2008.
42 Carlyle A. Thayer, "Vietnam: The Tenth Party Congress and After", in Southeast
Asian Affairs 2007, edited by Daljit Singh and Lorraine C. Salazar (Singapore:
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2007), pp. 381-97. The discussion of Bloc
8406 that follows is drawn from this source.
43 Human Rights Watch, "Vietnam: Fledgling Democracy Movement Under Threat",
10 May 2006.
44 "Tuyen Ngon Tu Do Dan Chu Cho Viet-Nam Nam 2006", 8 April 2006. One
signatory to the 6 April appeal withdrew, and three new signatories were added
for a total of 118.
45 Fourteen Catholic priests in Hue signed the manifesto. The nine signatories
from Hanoi included lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, long-time dissident Hoang
Minh Chinh, three former army officers (including the former editor of
the Military History Review], the wives of two dissidents a writer and an
46 Matt Steinglass, "Dissident Numbers Grow in Vietnam", Voice of America,
16 October 2006.
47 Kay Johnson, "Voices of Dissent", Time Asia, 18 September 2006.
48 Luisetta Mudie, "Vietnam Nervous Over Emerging Pro-Democracy Voices", Radio
Free Asia, 29 September 2006.
49 The role of the PDP and VPP was discussed earlier. It might be argued that
their foreign origins rule out these groups as authentic political civil society
groups in Vietnam. But in an era of globalization where the role of diaspora
communities has assumed increasing importance, exclusion on these grounds
seems arbitrary.
50 Material on the Viet Tan is drawn from Carlyle A. Thayer, "Mot bai viet ve
dang Viet Tan", BBC World Service, Vietnamese Service, 4 May 2007.
51 Quoc Minh, "Reactionary terrorist groups casts spectral shadow over democracy",
Vietnam News Service, 30 March 2007 and Commentary, "Overseas Organizations
Acts Against National Interest", Voice of Vietnam, 2 April 2007.
52 Viet Tan Party, "Response to Attacks on Viet Tan by Communist Vietnam's
State-Run Media", 1 April 2007.
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Vietnam and the Challenge of Political Civil Society 27
53 On 28 October 2003, Australia's ABC TV Foreign Correspondent programme
aired an interview with a member of the Viet Tan and claimed this was the
first public acknowledgement of the group in Vietnam.
54 Abuza is an exception. See Zachary Abuza, "Loyal Opposition: The Rise of
Vietnamese Dissidents", Harvard Asia Quarterly (2000), Internet edition and
Zachary Abuza, Renovating Politics in Contemporary Vietnam (Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 2001).
55 Nguyen Ngoc Giao, "The Media and The Emergence of a 'Civil Society'", Paper
presented to Vietnam: Doi Moi, the State and Civil Society, Vietnam Update
1994 Conference, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian
National University, Canberra, 10-11 November 1994.
56 The latter three patterns of political change have been adapted from Samuel
P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), pp. 109-63.
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... Khi Việt Nam mở cửa với thế giới bên ngoài, các nhà tài trợ nước ngoài và các cơ quan viện trợ của chính phủ, cũng như các NGO quốc tế vội vã hỗ trợ Việt Nam bằng cách áp dụng mô hình của họ cho phát triển. Những mô hình kết hợp quan điểm cho rằng việc hỗ trợ các tổ chức NGO đối tác nội địa là cách tốt nhất để kiến tạo không gian cho các hoạt động XHCD trong thể chế Việt Nam [33]. ...
We are at the dawn of the industrial revolution 4.0. What will the industry 4.0 impact on the rights of people with disabilities. This paper aims at exploring the primary issues in connection with the impacts of the industry 4.0 on the rights of people with disabilities. This paper is therefore divided into four sections. The first section will provide an overview of the industry 4.0, the second section will provide an overview of the rights of people with disabilities, the third section will analyze the impacts of industry 4.0 on the rights of people with disabilities, and the last one will produce some recommendations for ensuring the rights of people with disabilities in the industry 4.0.
... The index, called the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public While the UNDP is a well-known multilateral developmental organization, not all readers may be familiar with the VFF. The VFF is the umbrella organization for Vietnam's mass organizations, including the Labor Confederation, Women's Union, Peasant Union, Youth Union and Communist Party, among others (Jeong, 1997;Thayer, 2009). In single-party systems based on Leninism, organizations like the VFF play the dual role of (1) downward communication from the central elites toward its member organizations to "create consensus" and (2) upward reporting of its members' views and needs to central policy-makers to "tighten intimacy between people and government." ...
Purpose Single-party regimes increasingly use Subnational Performance Assessments (SPAs) – rankings of provinces and districts – to improve governance outcomes. SPAs assemble and publicize information on local government performance to facilitate monitoring and generate competition among officials. However, the evidence are sparse on their effects in this context. The authors argue that built-in incentive structures in centralized single-party regimes distort the positive impact of SPAs. Design/methodology/approach The staggered rollout of the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) created a natural experiment. Due to 2010 budget constraints, the first iteration of the PAPI survey covered only 30 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces before covering all in 2011. The PAPI team used matching procedures to identify a statistical twin for each province before randomly selecting one from each pair. The authors use randomization inference to compare the outcomes of these control and treatment groups in 2011. Findings Exposure to PAPI helped improve almost all aspects of governance; however, significant evidence of prioritization bias exist. The positive effects only persisted for the dimension of administrative procedures, which was the one area of governance that was prioritized by the central government at the time. Other dimensions only registered short-term effects. Originality/value Our study provides an examination of the impact of SPAs in a single-party regime context. In addition, the authors leverage the natural experiment to identify information effects causally. The authors also look past short-term effects to compare outcomes for five years after the treatment occurred.
... The relationship between the Vietnamese Party-state and society has been a key question for scholars of contemporary Vietnam (Bui, 2013;Kerkvliet, 2019;Kerkvliet et al., 2008;Nørlund, 2007;Thayer, 2009;Wischermann, 2010Wischermann, , 2011. Although the Party-state is based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, many scholars question whether its relations with society should be labelled "authoritarian" (Womack, 1987;Koh, 2001). ...
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Since 2008, non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations have helped to transform the image of Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Vietnam. Their efforts reached a peak in 2014 when Vietnam became the first country in Asia to debate the issue of same-sex marriage in the national parliament. Yet, the outcome of the debate remained was ambiguous, with same-sex marriage being neither illegal nor recognised by the state. This paper explores the tactics and strategies of LGBT activists as they campaigned for recognition of same-sex marriage. It argues that a key factor in the “in-between” outcome was their lack of attention to the redistributive implications of recognition. Together with attention to the fractured nature of the Vietnamese state, engaging directly with issues of redistribution may allow LGBT activists to further advance the politics of recognition at the same time as they redefine the contours of civil society and activism in contemporary Vietnam.
... activities and forms of engagement with the state (Hannah 2007;Kerkvliet et al. 2008;Thayer 2009). Regarding Cambodia, critical political economy theorists have shown how NGOs' independence is limited by donor funding and manipulation by the authorities (Öjendal and Lilja 2009;Hughes 2009). ...
... In Vietnam and Cambodia both, civil society actors and the state seek out and develop strategic responses for managing their relationship to one another in an environment that is continuously shaped and (re)constructed by changing legislation, collaboration and negotiation, advocacy and protest, and the restrictions placed by measures for social control (Bach Tan Sinh, Öjendal, Wells-Dang in this volume; Thayer (2009)). ...
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The SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) rights movement has, at least in the West, been considered successful. In Southeast Asia, there appears to be a vibrant SOGIE rights movement, which leads some to speculate about a SOGIE rights revolution in the region. However, instead of a revolution, there seems to be a dilemma in Southeast Asia. Advocates of SOGIE rights in this region find themselves facing political institutions with ambiguous positions regarding SOGIE rights in particular and human rights in general. In fact, it can be argued that on issues concerning SOGIE, Southeast Asia is as varied as it is politically and culturally diverse. The study explores the developments of SOGIE rights in Southeast Asia, particularly the persistent lack of institutionalization of SOGIE rights in three states in the region, despite the growing visibility and activism of SOGIE rights movements therein. To address this, the study looks at particular states in Southeast Asia where SOGIE rights activism has seen some significant recent developments, i.e., in the Philippines, in Singapore, and in Viet Nam. Interestingly, each of these countries has distinct differences relative to the other politically, socially, economically and to a considerable extent, culturally. Adopting the norm localization framework developed by Amitav Acharya, the argument forwarded in this thesis is that this persistent lack of institutionalization of SOGIE rights at the state level is a result of strong and well-entrenched local norms and beliefs that resist or oppose SOGIE rights, even when there are credible local actors who managed to find congruence between SOGIE rights and existing norms. Using historiographical research and case studies, I explore the dynamics of norm localization in terms of SOGIE rights by non-state actors, i.e., SOGIE rights movements in Southeast Asia.
Based on recent research in Hanoi, this article examines the emergence of NGOs in Vietnam, and relates their development to the civil society discourse which is used by elements of the international donor community to predict the growth of pluralism and democracy. After examining the social and political environment of post-reform Vietnam, it does not appear evident that these organizations fit into any definition of civil society which stresses independence from the state and opposition to stale ideology.
Acknowledgements 1. Introduction: Civil Institutions and the State 2. Development of NGOs under a Post-Totalitarian Regime: The Case of China 3. NGOs, the State, and Democracy under Globalization: The Case of Taiwan 4. Friends and Critics of the State: The Case of Hong Kong 5. Civil Associations and Autonomy under Three Regimes: The Boundaries of State and Society in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China 6. From State-Centric to Negotiated Governance: NGOs as Policy Entrepreneurs in South Korea 7. The Development of NGO Activities in Japan: A New Civil Culture and Institutionalization in Civic Action 8. The State, Local Associations, and Alternate Civilities in Rural Northern Vietnam 9. Non-Government Organizations and Democratic Transition in Indonesia 10. Constrained NGOs and Arrested Democratization in Singapore Index Notes on Contributors