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With the restrictions of political rights, abuse of human rights, violation of civil liberties, Vietnam, characterised by one-party system, is frequently ranked by international democracy indicators such as Freedom House, Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGIs) as 'No Free', or 'Lowest level of Freedom'. In fact, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has been ruling the country for over 62 years since 1954, making it as one of the longest ruling parties in the world. In this paper, I will examine the extent to which Vietnam has been liberalizing, and probability it will transform into electoral democracy, or multi-party system. In order to answer my questions, I analyze the current socioeconomic development, the status of classes and civil society, and the preferences of the Vietnamese elites, with the comparison to the historical events which leaded to economic liberalization in 1986. I find out that (1) the current socioeconomic development, despite some signs of slowdown since 2008, are still manageable and performing positively, thus, cannot lead to a crisis; (2) the middle and working class, civil society groups are not strong and well-organized forces, thus, cannot lead democratization movement; and (3) the elites still keep grip on power and the factions inside the Party can only lead to limited political liberalization. Therefore, Vietnam will not democratize in the near future, but it is liberalizing at least. My findings contribute to (1) the understanding of regime surveillance and authoritarian regime given the fact that the VCP is among the last five-standing Communist parties in the world; (2) the mechanism of democratization in an Asian country, testing the myth of Asian authoritarian and Western-liberal democracy; and (3) last but not least, evaluating and predicting the prospects of democratization of Vietnam, which was the long hope and calls of many Vietnamese critics, thus, contributing to the democratization movement of the world. If Vietnam democratizes, what is its modest impacts to another communist/authoritarian country, notably Laos and China?
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With the restrictions of political rights, abuse of human rights, violation of civil
liberties, Vietnam, characterised by one-party system, is frequently ranked by
international democracy indicators such as Freedom House, Worldwide Governance
Indicators (WGIs) as ‘No Free’, or ‘Lowest level of Freedom’. In fact, the Vietnamese
Communist Party (VCP) has been ruling the country for over 62 years since 1954,
making it as one of the longest ruling parties in the world. In this paper, I will examine
the extent to which Vietnam has been liberalizing, and probability it will transform into
electoral democracy, or multi-party system. In order to answer my questions, I analyze
the current socio-economic development, the status of classes and civil society, and the
preferences of the Vietnamese elites, with the comparison to the historical events which
leaded to economic liberalization in 1986. I find out that (1) the current socio-economic
development, despite some signs of slow-down since 2008, are still manageable and
performing positively, thus, cannot lead to a crisis; (2) the middle and working class,
civil society groups are not strong and well-organized forces, thus, cannot lead
democratization movement; and (3) the elites still keep grip on power and the factions
inside the Party can only lead to limited political liberalization. Therefore, Vietnam
will not democratize in the near future, but it is liberalizing at least. My findings
contribute to (1) the understanding of regime surveillance and authoritarian regime
given the fact that the VCP is among the last five-standing Communist parties in the
world; (2) the mechanism of democratization in an Asian country, testing the myth of
Asian authoritarian and Western-liberal democracy; and (3) last but not least,
evaluating and predicting the prospects of democratization of Vietnam, which was the
long hope and calls of many Vietnamese critics, thus, contributing to the
democratization movement of the world. If Vietnam democratizes, what is its modest
impacts to another communist/authoritarian country, notably Laos and China?
ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
FDI Foreign Trade Investment
PA Professional associations
PM Prime Minister
SOEs State-owned enterprises
TPP Trans-Pacific Partnership
UWFA United Workers-Farmers Association
VCP Vietnam Communist Party
VUSTA The Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations
VUAL The Vietnam Union of Arts and Literature
WGIs Worldwide Governance Indicators
WTO World Trade Organisation
Figure 1: Mechanism of the democratization process in the authoritarian
regime ...................................................................................................... 14!
Figure 2: Strikes in Vietnam, 1995- 2008 ........................................................ 26!
Figure 3: Size of middle class by country (based on household survey means)
.................................................................................................................. 29!
Figure 4: Spectrum of Vietnamese civil roles .................................................. 31!
Figure 5: Classifications of CSOs in Vietnam ................................................. 31!
Figure 6: Four scenarios of democratization in Vietnam ................................. 35!
I am indebted to many individividuals without whom I have not completed this
dissertation. Firstly, I would like to thank my dissertation Supervisor, Pro.Mick Moore,
who have been consistenly patient with me and give valuable feedbacks during each
steps of my dissertation. From lines of exchange, I understand more about the nature
of authoritarian regime, not only in Vietnam, but also in Asia and the world. You help
open to me a new horizon of knowledge, different ways to look at the issues at different
angles, and more importantly, great appreciation to the work of other scholars.
I also would like to thank our MA Governance Convenor, Miguel Loureiro, who has
shown great dedication and professions in teaching us, convening the class, who has
follow each steps of every member in our Governance class and motivated us for
greater improvements. I appreciate the extra time and effort you have spent with me
after the class. I also would like to extend my thanks to the Program Officer, Lisa Ross,
for your continous effort in arranging the class, organising the course, and providing
the immense support. From my beginning days in the IDS, you have been very helpful
and provide detailed instructions.
Additionally, my one-year Master cannot be great more without the presence and great
support of my Governance classmates and other IDS students. Thanks to long-debated
discussions in the class, extra time after each module, and your great care, I understand
more about the situation of your country, as well as your aspirations in the Governance
and Development. I hope we will keep this friendship long after we graduate and I
invite you to visit my country, Vietnam, one day.
I am also deeply grateful to my parents, Do Duc Kien, and Nguyen Thi Bach Tuyet,
who have been following each of my steps, and provide great source of support and
encouragement. You have taught me to believe in myself, always do great things and
be grateful to things surrounding me.
Last but not least, my thanks would go to Chevening Scholarship, the UK’s
government’s global scholarship programme, funded by the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations, have provided financial
assistance for my Master. One-year Master in UK has given me great chances not only
to pursue specialisation in my field, but also understanding of diversed culture and
history of the UK as well as the Europe.
I. INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................ 7
II. METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................... 9
III. LITERATURE REVIEW .............................................................................. 10
IV. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK .................................................................. 13
V. CHANCES OF POLITICAL INSTABILITY ................................................... 15
1. Slowdown in socio-economic performance ................................................... 17
2. Erosion of ideology ........................................................................................ 18
3. Territorial disputes with China ...................................................................... 20
VI. ELITE SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY ...................................................... 21
VII. ACTIVE DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT GROUP ............................................ 25
1. Working classes ............................................................................................. 25
2. The middle classes ......................................................................................... 28
3. Civil society ................................................................................................... 30
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................... 38
ANNEX ....................................................................................................................... 53
‘Whether democracy foster or hinder welfare?...Whenever regimes do make a
difference, lives under dictatorship are miserable…Democracies are far from perfect,
but they are better than all the alternatives.’
Przeworski Adam, Michael E.Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi
in ‘Democracy and Development: Political institutions and well-being in the
world, 1950 1990
During the 12th National Congress which has just concluded, on a typical street in Ho
Chi Minh City, the second biggest city of Vietnam, was overflowing with red and
yellow slogans symbolising the fraternal unity of farmers and workers, and
reinforcement of the country’s unity that the Communist party like to portray as their
gift to the nation. Yet, this was in stark contrast to the market-driven vibrant economy
that the city represents and heads towards. High building, skyscrapers, and commercial
centers have been rapidly growing taking up the city’s space, yet in the corners,
hundreds of slums are around the canal, vendors pile their wares on the street, four-
member family huddle in 50m2 house, a typical scene in any modern city. Sometimes,
I wonder myself what the city would look like if the capitalist South had prevailed over
the Communist North of Vietnam in 1975? Or the Vietnamese Communist regime had
failed in the 1990s?
The ‘Third Wave of Democratization’ (1974-1990), identified by Hungtinton (1992),
witnessed the ‘global democratic revolution’ with the collapse of 85 authoritarian
regime and establishment of new 30 democratically elected government. An update
research from Magaloni (2010), however, shows that the transition from one type of
authoritarian rule to another were the most common form of regime change: during
1950-2006, 43% were transitions from dictatorship to dictatorship. Compared to
another type of authoritarian regime, one-party rule last longer, have higher economic
growth, fewer coups, and have better counterinsurgency capacities (Geddes, 2003;
Keefer, 2008; Gandhi, 2008 cited in Magaloni, 2010; Axel et al., 2007). One-party
regimes have some characteristics that differentiate them from both democratic and
military regimes: an institutional framework and ideological legitimacy (Hungtinton,
1992). Since the collapse of one-party system in Soviet Union and Easter Europe in
1990, there are five one-party states exists till 2016, naming China, North Korea, Cuba,
Laos, Vietnam.
In Asia, there were long traditional views that Asian values - which are consensus over
conflict, duty over rights, and the group over individual - have fundamentally approach
to democracy, thus, incompatible with Western-style liberal democracies (Ginsburg,
2008; Jacob, 1993; and Neher, 1991). However, since the mid-1980s, five consolidated
democracies have emerged in East and Southeast Asia, naming Taiwan, the
Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Mongolia; only Thailand saw some
backsliding with the 2006 coup. It has challenged the view of the culturalist approaches
with essentialist views of Asian authoritarian (Hegel, 1899) and open the hope for
understanding how democracy can emerge in countries without a liberal political
tradition (Ginsburg, 2008).
The Vietnamese Communist Party (the VCP) has been the ruling party in Vietnam for
61 years since 1954. Established in 1930 and with roots in the Communist
International, the CPV has successfully lead the national struggle overthrowing the
colonial rule. Since then, the CPV has been and remains dominant in Vietnam’s politics
(London, 2014). With economic reforms in 1986, the CPV has lifted Vietnam from one
of the poorest countries in 1990 to middle-income country in 2010 and lift millions of
people out of poverty (Hayton, 2010). Though the country’s economy retains potential,
two decades of rapid economic growth was followed by flagging economic
performance, endemic corruption, rising inflation, environmental pollution, and
intensifying social inequalities, challenging the legitimacy of the CPV (Thayer, 2009).
The monopoly of power of the VCP, lack of balance and checks, and the interweaving
relationship between the Party and the state are seen as the roots of the problems
(London, 2014; Thayer, 2009; and Abuza, 2011). Political restlessness and dissidents
started to emerge widely since 2006, calling for a more transparent and accountable
government, and open for multi-party system. The CPV, however, severely repressed
organized dissents and ‘does not tolerate any challenge to its one-party rule’ (Freedom
House, 2011).
With its legacy of a Communist country for more than 60 years, under strong influences
of the Confucian values, having limited political liberation heritage, will and can
Vietnam overcome these impediments to democratize like its neighboring countries
Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philiipines? This is the main question I seek the answer:
How far will Vietnam democratize? In order to answer this main question, I will
breakdown into two sub-questions:
- To what extent, the one-party state in Vietnam will liberalize?
- What is the possibility of the transition from one-party state to an electoral
democracy, or multi-party in Vietnam?
Considering the nature of topic relates to the broad multi-dimensional analysis of
history, politics, and culture of a nation, I will not conduct the primary research.
Instead, I will employ primarily qualitative and secondary research, which draw from
the literature review of relevant concepts and areas of study. The literatures include
ethnographies of Authoritarian regimes, Theories of democratization, Democratization
in Asia, and Politics in Vietnam specifically. Any gaps between the literature (the latest
academic papers about Vietnam were updated in 2015) and the current situation of
politics of Vietnam (for example, the 12th of National Congress of the VCP in March
2016) will be covered in the thesis by using reliable source of information.
After reviewing the previous literature about democratization and point out the
drawbacks of each approach with recent empirical evidences, I incorporate key
components of each approach and set up a pragmatic framework to address my research
question. Having identified ‘political stability’, ‘societal pressures’, and ‘elites
preferences’ as three key components, I then operationalise them to study their link
with democration process, and how the interaction between each components lead to
the democratization result.
I first briefly sumary the history of contemporary modern Vietnam since 1932, mention
its historical event in 1986 when the VCP decided to liberalise the centrally-planned
economics, and describe its current status with socio-economic achievements as well
as political constraints. Moving closer, firstly, with statistics, graphics, and logical
reasons, I examine to what extent the slowdown in economic performance, corruption,
inequality, erosion in ideology, and territoral disputes with China affect the legitimacy
of the VCP, thus, the political stability.
Secondly, talking about elite preferences, I analyse the political situation of the country
in the 1980s to gain insight into the factions among the Vietnamese elites and how this
faction lead to the liberalisation of economics. I then based on the patterns of the Party’s
factions to predict how the current splits can lead to political liberalisation or
Thirdly, I choose to analyse the current pressure from specific segments of the society
of Vietnam including the working class, the middle class, and civil society, which all
have emerged since 1990s and have significant impacts on the wide range of socio-
economic and political aspects of Vietnam. I study their patterns of characteristics,
potentials to contribute to democratization process, and interaction across groups in
heading in the same way to liberalise or democratic transition.
I then will project the potential scenarios for the political transformation in Vietnam:
who will lead the way, when, and how? From analysing the prospects of four scenarios,
I come to conclusions about the degree of liberalisation and probability of democratic
transitions in Vietnam.
If I have more time and space, I would discuss about the ‘peaceful evolution’ with the
infiltration of democratic practices and its related balance US-China in the domestic
politics of Vietnam; the potential role of the Vietnamese peasants with increasing land
disputes and land grabbing cases from the government officials and foreign investors
with economic benefits motives; and the abuse of human rights of the CPV toward
political civil society as well as public dissidents regarding to their writings, critics,
and actions. All these matters, I hope to incorporate in the next study about the current
politics of Vietnam.
Reports from NGOs, documents from governments, surveys in the past evaluation
projects which I have involved, will be analysed.
Authoritarian regime and one-party Communist state
Authoritarian regimes, are generally negatively described as lack of democratic
characteristics, which are free formulation of political preferences, freedom of
associations, freedom of information, and competitive elections (Bobbio, 1989; Aron,
1968; and Przeworski, 1992). Drawing data from observations of regime changes from
1950-2006, Magaloni et al., (2009, 2010) and Axel et al., (2007) subdivide
authoritarian regimes into monarchies, military regimes, and one-party regimes
(including single-party regimes and dominant-party regimes). According to their
research, one-party regimes lasts longer (average life span as 17.8 years, higher than
military and democratic regimes)1, least likely to transform to democracy, but once
transform, the democracy becomes more durable. The one-party systems were created
by revolution, Soviet imposition, and included the Communist countries (Huntington,
1992). The Communist countries, largely characterized by Friedrich et al., (1965), are
autocratic single-party states where a mass based Leninist party effectively mobilize
power, controls the flow of information, exercises substantial control over the
economy, and legitimates its rule through ideology.
Communism was first introduced to Vietnam since the establishment of the CPV in
1930. However, during the 1940s and the late 1980s, it was not the only legal political
Party since there were other parties naming Vietnamese Nationalist Party, Vietnamese
Socialist Party, though all these parties had been eliminated either by French, or by the
Communist (Gainsborough, 1997: 505). It was not until the 1975 that the CPV defeated
the US-back capitalist regime in the South and established its rule throughout Vietnam
with the socialist orientation.
Democracy and democratization
Though many scholars have sought and generated conceptual and analytical tools to
capture the contested meaning of democracy, most widely focus on procedural
considerations. Schumpeter (1976) and Dahl (1971) emphasize the contested elections
and effective guarantees of citizens’ political and civil rights, whereas Collier and
Levitsky (1997), Karl (1990) and O’Donnel (2004) base on the outcomes or
consequences of the democratic political process relating to economics and social
characteristics of a society such as social justice, social equality, or corruption rather
than features of democracy itself. In another word, while the first concept’s main focus
is the election and civil liberties, also known as liberal democracy, procedural
democracy; the second one asserts the people’s capability and agency to fully
participate in political, social and economical sphere, also known as substantive
democracy or broad democracy. The VCP, claiming to represent the vanguard working
class, criticizes the first model as bourgeois democracy, and asserts its objective is
socialist democracy, and the only necessary leadership to achieve that is the VCP
(Kerkvliet, 2015:429). Putting in the current political context of Vietnam, we study the
procedural democracy whether Vietnam will open for electoral elections, or multi-party
system, and examine the status of socialist democracy, which the VCP claims to build
1 See more at Annex 1
There are differences between democracy and democratization. While democracy is
seen as a political system, democratization is the political process of regime change
from authoritarian rule to the rooting of a new liberal democracy (Rummel, 1996;
Pridham, 2010:16). Rustow (1970) and O’Donnell et al. (1986) highlighted three
phases of a process of democratization: (1) Liberalization, refers to the qualitative
change in authoritarian rule, in which the political struggles or the polarization lead to
an increase in civil liberties, or the mitigation of oppression; (2) Transition the first
major stage of the regime change commencing at the point when the first competitive
elections are held; and (3) Consolidation democratic practices are expected to
become more firmly established and accepted by most relevant actors, and the regime
is unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without an external shock.
However, liberalization is not always a prerequisite to democratization. The transition
may occur abruptly and perhaps violently, leaving little scope for liberalizing features.
Or the liberalization might not be able to to lead to the transition. For example, in
Poland, when the liberalization process ended between 1955 and 1957, the state
converted to an authoritarian regime with the repression of students and autonomous
organizations (Przeworski, 1992). Focusing on the case of Vietnam, I will examine the
first two phases: (1) liberalization to what extent, the authoritarian regime in Vietnam
will liberalize; and (2) transition the probability that Vietnam will transit to a liberal
Literature on Vietnam’s politics
There have been relatively few scholars written about the Party, but most of them
focused mainly on its historical evolution, which associated with the resistance
movement and economic reforms, rather than the Party’s current situation (Pike, 1978;
Khanh, 1982; Thayer, 1988; Sterm, 1993; Vasavakul, 1997; Gainsborough, 20007;
Koh, 2008 cited in London, 2014). There are mainly two reasons: (1) The Party is a
relatively close regime, thus provide limited materials for the scholars; and (2) Many
scholars assume that Vietnam’s politics can be ‘read-off’ from the Chinese case.
More recent prominent scholars focus on analysis about the Party with different
specialization, such as London (2014) about regime resilience and current issues of the
Party, Abuza and Thayer (2009) about dissidents, and Well-dang (2012) about civil
society. Though several chapters in their books have mentioned the possibility of
changes in Vietnamese politics, the scholars have not yet analyzed the mechanism of
democratization. Other scholars, Hiep (2012) and Kervliet (2015), focus on different
factors and have different perspectives about the democratization in Vietnam. Based
on their work, with my updates with recent political development in the 12th National
Congress, I contribute my parts in understanding the democratization process in
Vietnam, and lay out foundations for further research.
To explain the process of democratization, a theory must transcend the structure and
agency, in which specifies how and when structural constraints affect the behaviors of
different actors (social groups, state, private sector), while at the same time providing
some logic for understanding why these actors make decisions as the way they do, and
how the interaction of these decisions produces an outcome of regime change (Teorell,
2010). The two traditional approaches, which includes modernization theory and the
process-oriented approaches, however, fail to meet these criteria.
Firstly, the modernization theory, distributed by Lipset (1959), see democracy as a
product of specific set of social and economic preconditions, or structural determinants,
creating distinct paths of political development favoring or not favoring a democratic
outcome. Social and economic preconditions can be listed as economic development,
the transformation of class structure, and the prior development of democratic values.
However, the model has not specified agents of change yet, thus, ‘the casual process is
mostly mechanical (Teorell, 2010). Experiences from democratization movement
show that countries follow different paths to democracy regardless of their socio- and
economic status, such as, United Kingdom, Germany at high level of development
while the countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia at lower level
of development (Rakner et al., 2007).
On the other hand, the process-oriented approaches, first mentioned by Moore (1966),
see democracy as the outcome of strategic interactions between key actors. Political
and interactions are made in phases of high uncertainty and unavoidable contingency.
This approach, however, has not specified necessary conditions for democratic
movements to happen, or under what conditions different actors support or oppose
democracy (Teorell, 2010).
Since the 1990s, Haggard and Kaufman (1995), Rueschemeyer et al. (1992), and
Huntington (1991) offered a deeper understanding of the democratic transition
processes by combining structural and agency-related factors in their model. Based on
their works, I proposed this framework, which sought out to answer: (1) What are the
structural factors causing the political instability?, (2) To what extent, the social groups
create pressure on the authoritarian government?, (3) To what extent, the elites may
support or tolerate the democratization?, and (4) What are the relations between
different actors, and how structural factors affect them?
Figure 1: Mechanism of the democratization process in the authoritarian regime
Source: The author’s summary
Firstly, the political instability is the propensity of a change in the executive power,
either by constitutional or unconstitutional means; the higher the degree of the political
instability, the more likely is a change of a regime (Alesina et al., 1996; Edwards et al.,
1992; and Ojzler, S., 1991). In non-democratic regimes, as there is a lack of mechanism
for checking and compelling power, they are more likely to encounter government and
regime problems (Pridham, 2000:66). Soviet Union and Eastern European countries in
the 1990s faced profound instability from their persistent policy problems, pressures
from socio-economic and international change, and a loss of legitimacy, which
eventually lead to the collapse of the Communist regimes (Maravall, 1997:45).
Secondly, societal pressures refer to the extent to which groups, associations,
organizations, and other social interactions can promote the interests of the population,
Democratisation probability
expose people to democratic norms, increase public participation in political decisions,
and thus, put pressure on political rulers (Diamond, 1999: 233-250; Boussard 2002:
160-164; and Grugel, 2002: 93-5). The pressure can come from the failure of the
government in providing public work, the absence of participatory or mediating
channels, the lack of representation among different groups, or more critically, the
transparency and accountability of the government, and the legitimate rule of the
governing Party (Pridham, 2000:77).
Thirdly, elite preferences, or the splits within the authoritarian coalition which lead
to the political liberalization and to a greater extent, democratization (Kaufman, 1996;
O’Donnel and Schmitter, 1986; and Przeworski; 1986). Chalmers and Robinson
(1982:5) argue that elite groups ‘find a liberal regime to be the most appropriate and
useful manner of organizing political life under the present circumstances’. The split
that precedes liberalization can begin with the failure of authoritarian regimes, or a
paradox of success, in which the elites find little to lose by opening the political system
(Mainwaring, 1989).
Finally, it is also essential to discuss the interactions between different actors, and how
structural factors shape their behaviors.
Hurwitz (1973: 449-63) identified five criteria of the stability of a regime: the absence
of violence, the longevity of government and cabinet duration, the legitimacy of the
constitutional regime, and the absence of the structural change. In the case of Vietnam,
we will examine how structural factors such as slow-down in economic performance,
corruption, rising inequality, erosion in ideology, and conflict with China in territorial
disputes are affecting the legitimacy of the VCP, thus, increases the threat to the
political stability.
The legitimacy is ‘the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief
that existing political institutions are the most appropriate or proper ones for the society
(Lipset, 1959:86). There are two types of legitimacy: normative legitimacy the
rightness of the regime’s claim to rule; and empirical legitimacy the level of public’s
diffuse support for the regime, (Chu et al., 2003). As most of democratic regimes build
their legitimacy on the consent of the ruled and universal suffrage, authoritarian
regimes, due to lack of normative legitimacy, drive their legitimacy on a combination
of sources, naming ideology, socialist goals, popular revolution, charismatic leaders,
socio-economic performance, and nationalism (Holmes, 1993:16).
Established in 1930, the legitimacy of the VCP until the reunification of Vietnam in
19752 was largely based on its leadership of the military struggle for national
independence, ability to mobilize the masses, charismatic leadership and legacy of Ho
Chi Minh, Marxism-Leninism and socialist goals of building a modern and equitable
society (Ljunggren, 1997:11; Kane et al., 2011:56). Hiep (2012) argued that traditional
legitimacy of the VCP so earned had been exhausted by the late 1980s. This exhaustion
was reinforced, during the period 1975 to 1986, due to flawed socialist policies of
extensive central planning and collectivization of farming which led to declining
living standards across all sections of society -- and international sanctions following
its military intervention in Cambodia.
These developments dramatically sunk the legitimacy of the VCP, threating its grip on
power, which they attempted to counter by switching to socio-economic based
performance-legitimacy. With the adoption of Renovation (known as Reform, or Doi
Moi) policy, the VCP transformed Vietnam into a market-oriented economy through
de-collectivization, privatization, public sector reforms and openness to foreign trade
and investment (FDI) (Beresford, 2001; Owen et al., 2005: 476480).
These reforms helped achieve average economic growth of 7 percent from 1995 to
2013, and reduce incidence of poverty from 58 percent in 1993 to 14.5 percent in 2008
(ODI, 2011). It also gained enhanced international recognition through normalization
of diplomatic relations with the United States and other countries, membership in
regional and international organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and recently, the UN
Security Council (Kane et al., 2011:56).
Though these results improved the legitimacy of the VCP, uncertainty around its
continuing legitimacy in the eyes of its people and international observers continue
because of the country’s less than complete global economic integration, problems in
the SOE and banking sectors, rise of articulate and aspirational professional educated
middle class, and greater pressure from the society (Jørgensen, 2015; World Bank,
1999; and Gainsborough, 2005).
2 See more at timetable history at Annex
Public discontents over the recent prolonged slowdown in socio-economic
performance, erosion in ideology and socialist ideas, and anti-Chinese nationalism over
South China sea issues perpetuate the legitimacy questions (Manthorpe, 2012).
Outbreak of stories of corruption and human rights abuse also hang as a sword over its
1. Slowdown in socio-economic performance
a. Economic mismanagement
While Vietnam’s economy has realized some of its potential3, recent flagging economic
performance have been attributed to economic mismanagement, corruption, skills and
infrastructure bottlenecks, and incompetence (London, 2014:1).
The worsening economic conditions since 2008 have presented challenges to the
credibility of the government (Hiep, 2012). The average annual growth rate for the
period 2008-2015 was only 5.8 per cent (World Bank, 2014). The economy also faced
politically difficult problems, including huge bad debts in the banking system4, frozen
property market, and inefficient state-owned enterprises5 (SOEs) (Thu, 2013). The
restructuring program in 2012 could not resolve these institutional weaknesses (Perkins
et al., 2013).
The VCP was hesitant to implement radical institutional reforms in the SOEs because
this sector has long been its instruments for realizing socialism, managing the macro-
economy, advancing its political agenda and supporting its unofficial patronage
network, which make them an integral part of the power equations (Hiep, 2012). In the
absence of further reforms and commitments, Vietnam will likely experience economic
difficulties for several years (Hiep, 2013).
b. Corruption
3 Vietnam is identified by the Goldman Sachs (2007) as the Next Eleven (N11) emerging
countries to become influential as the BRICs.
4 By the late 2012, bad debts accounted for approximately 10 per cent of the total lending, of
which half of this was unrecoverable (Tran, 2012c; Thu, 2013). The country banking’s system
had the highest bad debt as percentage of nonperforming loans among the ten Southeast Asian
countries (Manthorpe, 2012)
In Vietnam, economic growth has been accompanied with rising and rampant
corruption (Nawaz, 2008), estimated at 34 percent of the GDP each year (VCCI,
2014). The practices are entrenched, ranging widely from petty favours and bribes to
corruption at high levels (Mau, 2006:22; Quang, 2004:4; and Tam, 2005:32)6 The
VCP’s domination, and lack of checks and balances, are seen as the root of the problem
(London, 2014:105).
In 2006, senior party officials vowed to fight corruption, but failed in practice. The
nature of one-party system precludes embracing institutions such as a free and
independent media, judiciary and law-enforcement agencies, or political opposition
parties (Hiep, 2013). To many regime dissidents, only fundamental changes in the
political system can resolve the ‘corruption disease’ of the country (London,
2014:105). It gets harder because the Party and government want to lead the attack, and
not let the agenda controlled by outsiders (Abuza, 2011:35).
c. Inequality
Despite Vietnam’s significant success in reducing poverty, increased economic
inequality for example with high and low concentration of wealth in the southern
(which includes Ho Chi Minh City) and mountainous parts of the country respectively
has been one consequence (Scott et al., 2004). Agglomeration of inequality have
formed the structural conditions of ‘concentrated spaces of discontent’, which coincide
with the places where massive public protests took place and are home to many pro-
democracy activist (Thayer, 2009b; Hasson, 2015).
Ho Chi Minh City’s Gini-coefficient rate in 2012 is 0.53, standing out as unequal city
with ‘values well above the national average of 0.4 (UN-Habitat, 2012). Although
Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minorities account for less than 15 percent of the population, they
made up for 47 percent of the poor (World Bank, 2012). Social protests and mass public
movement emerged in these areas calling for ‘inclusive growth’ (Hasson, 2015).
2. Erosion of ideology
Even though socialism along Marxism-Leninism lines, like in other Communist
6 High-ranking officials are inordinately wealthy by kickbacks, embezzlement, and other
corruption include former Secretary General of the VCP Đỗ Mười ($2 billion), Lê Kh Phiêu
($500 million), Nông Đức Mnh ($1.3 billion); former National President Đức Anh ($2
billion), Trn Đức Lương ($2 billion); former Prime Minister Phan Văn Khi ($2 billion); and
National Assembly Nguyn Văn An ($1 billion plus) (Đin Thư, 2005:1)
countries, and Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts are the official ideology of the VCP (Kerkvliet,
2005; Brunner, 1982: 28), the ideology has inevitably eroded in practice and prosperity
from economic reform have offered opportunities to among political and public service
elites (Hiep, 2012). Vuving (2010) explains how while capitalism offers economic
opportunities, communism offers a monopoly of power, a precondition for rent-
Vietnam’s economy no longer resembles a communist economy despite VCP’s claims,
with: market instead of centrally-planned economy, family instead of collective farms,
openness to foreign investment and private companies existing in parallel with SOEs
(Kerkvliet, 2015). Party members are motivated to join the public service less because
of ideology than opportunities for promotions and rent-seeking since the political
system is ‘dominated by whom you know, what position you hold, and how much you
can pay’ (Gainsborough, 2010:178-9).
Moreover, the young generation, all born well after 1976, know about the VCP’s
ideological peaks through propaganda and second-hand stories, while daily
confrontation to make a living seems a far more important reality to them (King, 2008).
Even though socialism along Marxism-Leninism lines, like in other Communist
countries, and Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts are the official ideology of the VCP (Kerkvliet,
2005; Brunner, 1982: 28), the ideology has inevitably eroded in practice and prosperity
from economic reform have offered opportunities to among political and public service
elites (Hiep, 2012). Vuving (2010) explains how while capitalism offers economic
opportunities, communism offers a monopoly of power, a precondition for rent-
Vietnam’s economy no longer resembles a communist economy despite VCP’s claims,
with: market instead of centrally-planned economy, family instead of collective farms,
openness to foreign investment and private companies existing in parallel with SOEs
(Kerkvliet, 2015). Party members are motivated to join the public service less because
of ideology than opportunities for promotions and rent-seeking since the political
system is ‘dominated by whom you know, what position you hold, and how much you
can pay’ (Gainsborough, 2010:178-9).
Moreover, the young generation, all born well after 1976, know about the VCP’s
ideological peaks through propaganda and second-hand stories, while daily
confrontation to make a living seems a far more important reality to them (King, 2008).
Gainsborough (2005) suggests such Marxism-Leninism philosophical underpinnings
will continue to impose limits on kind of political change that the state is willing to
contemplate. Due to these reasons, many critics argue the façade of communism must
be dropped. In an open letter sent to 12th National Party Congress in 2015, at least 127
senior high officials, retired military and social activists have demanded to retitle the
VCP and change the name of Socialist Republic of Vietnam (BBC Vietnamese, 2015).
3. Territorial disputes with China
Observation suggests that particularly in times of economic turbulence, the VCP resorts
to nationalism to reinforce its legitimacy (Hiep, 2012). For example, the VCP recently
allowed celebration for sacrificed soldiers in the northern border battle with China in
1979 to boost the country’s nationalism and patriotism (BBC Vietnamese, 2014).
Generally, though, its stand vis-a-vis China is two-faced because it worries about
strained relations with Beijing, which in turn can delegitimize the VCP (Liu et al.,
2015). While its recent assertive stance against China in South China sea dispute has a
convincing ring to it, it followed several spontaneous protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City (Nguyen, 2010:4), which questioned the inadequate and ‘timid’ responses
of the VCP for ceding the nation’s territorial integrity and independence to China, and
demanded that the national leadership ‘stand up to China’ (Thayer, 2009).
Opposition groups also used this opportunity to leverage popular dissatisfaction with
the government, thus challenging the authority of the VCP (Liu et al., 2015). In
response, the VCP banned anti-China demonstrations characterising these as
detrimental to the integrity of the country, and social and political order (source). In a
country where people had struggled to fight for ‘Independence Freedom and
Happiness’ (National Emblem of Vietnam since 1976), the concessions of the Party
over territory or sovereignty make people lose faith in the VCP (Thayer, 2009a).
The VCP’s bending over to China, of course, has its reasons. Shivakumar (2005:376)
points out Vietnam needs China’s support to maintain its political legitimacy,
economic growth and regional influence. The two countries share a common ideology
and a political system. Vietnamese leaders considered China a strategic ally to combat
against ‘peaceful evolution’, a term used by Chinese leaders to indicate infiltration of
democratic norms and conspiracy of the Western to subvert socialist regimes (Vuving,
2009). Besides, Vietnam has closely followed China’s development model and its
export-oriented economy relies on machinery and raw material imports from China.
Thus, an adversarial relationship with China may exert negative impacts on Vietnam’s
economic development, undermine the performance-legitimacy of the VCP, and
weaken its influence in the Indo-China Peninsula, including Cambodia and Laos,
through interference by China7 (Liu et al., 2015).
Anti-China nationalism has become a particularly powerful force in Vietnam’s
domestic politics since 2007 (Thayer 2011: 16; London, 2014: 108).
To summary, Vietnam has missed the chances to become the next Asian tigers.
Vietnam lags far behind its Asian neighbours such as South Korea, Japan, and
Singapore in terms of socio-economic and democratic development despite the similar
sufferings during the war (London, 2014:107). Political restlessness with the heart of
harsh economic conditions has been emerged nationwide with 3,828 mass public
protests reported during 2006 - 2011, of which 326 involved more than 50 participants
(Vietnamnet, 2011). Maintaining uninterrupted socio-economic development in
growing uncertainty in global economic integration thus is a daunting task to the VCP
(Hiep, 2012).
As noted before, the split of ruling elites can have direct and indirect influence on
democratic transitions (O’Donnell et al., 1986). The conflicts between two factions
over socio-economic issues may result in more liberalized policies, which in turns can
lead to unintended slippery slope toward democratic transitions (Collier, 1999). The
mightiest political elite in Vietnam are the leaders of the Communist Party, including
top officials in the government, military, police, and other parts of the state; accounting
for nearly 5 percent of the population8 (Kerkvliet, 2015). In the section below, I will
go back to the 1980s to analyze the decision of economic liberalization, thus, traced
back to the faction patterns in the politics of Vietnam, predict for the current trend, and
evaluate its impacts on the democratization.
During the 1980s, Vietnam faced deteriorating internal and external problems:
economic crisis, hyper-inflation, widespread famine, and cut in aid program (Ahearn,
1999). The Vietnamese leaders came to divide into two camps: the conservatives and
7 See tactics of Vietnam over the relations between US China in Annex
8 To March 2016, the Vietnamese Communist Party members are 4.5 million compared to the
total population of 91 million (BBC Vietnamese, 2016; VOV, 2016)
the reformers (Vuving, 2006). The conservatives followed the closed door policies,
inclined toward the old orthodox Marxism ideology, preferred Party perseverance, and
had vested interests in the SOEs (Ahearn, 1999:36; Thayer, 2001; and Vuving, 2006).
The reformers, on the other hand, advocated the open-door policies, encouraged the
global integration of the economy, supported the private sector which they developed
their own patron-client ties, and prioritized nation over the Party (Ahearn, 1999:36;
Thayer, 2001; and Vuving, 2006). The division of two camps, thus, is a mixed of
ideology and personal interests (Abuza, 2002).
Facing the harsh economic conditions, among the reforms efforts was the structuring
large inefficient SOEs. Until 1986, Vietnam still operated 6,500 SOEs, mostly small
and town-based, accounting for 75% of Vietnam’s assets. Though they obtained 65
percent of the bank credit, they did ‘little for job creation’ (Adam, 1995). The reformers
camp, lead by PM Vo Van Kiet, judged that only by restructuring the SOEs and
transferring the state resources into the private sector that it can ensure the $40 billion
of the investment capital to maintain the growth rate (Ahearn, 1999). Especially, when
Vietnam was still under the severed ties and trade embargo imposed by the US and the
cut in aid program from Soviet Union, the economy came at critical crossroad. On the
other hand, the conservatives camp, lead by President Le Hong Anh, inclined by their
ideology, tended to be warier of opening the country to the capitalism and foreign
influences. They were afraid that widening the income gap due to economic reform
would reduce their main supports in rural areas. Additionally, they argued the
infiltration of Western democratic norms, or ‘peaceful evolution’ could lead to the
political instability (Liu et al., 2015). Another reason, although it is less clearly, is their
vested interests in the SOEs. Back in the 1980s, all prominent figures in the Politburo
controlled their own patron-client ties: Muoi General Secretary as the VCP and state-
owned enterprises (SOEs), Kiet Prime Minister as the bureaucracy, and Anh
President as the military and its sizable business sector (Abuza, 2002; Thayer, 1994).
The Sixth National Congress witnessed the important turns with the historical decisions
of economic liberalization (Gainsborough, 2007). As Ahearn (1999) commented, as
the legitimacy of the VCP depends on rising living standards of people induced by
economic growth, the urge for economic reform prevailed the ideology. Additionally,
the reformers were believed to use some tactics to take over the conservatives in
pushing incremental reform9(Riedel et al., 1999).
9 For detailed explanation, see Annex
The factions in the Vietnamese elites did not only lead to economic liberalization, but,
to some extent, limited political liberalization. More than one more time, many
reformers called for political reform (Abuza, 2011:24). The first and most famous
criticism is Trn Xuân Bách, who was the Politburo member, advocated for ‘political
pluralism’ in 1989-90 with his famous quotes ‘You cannot walk with one long leg and
one short leg, and you can’t walk with only one leg’10 (Hiebert, 1990). Nguyn Vũ
Bình, who was former editor of Communist Review sought permission to establish the
Freedom and Democracy Party (Hiep, 2013). The list can go on, though all the
movements were failed, critics were all soon expelled from the Party, stripped of
positions and status, or forced to leave the country. However, they had rung the alarms
over the degradation in the Party’s legitimacy. For example, the mass protests of the
peasants in Thai Binh in 1997 over the issues of land confiscations and corruption has
lead to the issue of Grassroot Democracy Decree in 1998, which created the mechanism
for the people to participate and supervise the local activities (Abuza, 2011:25). To the
impact of UNDP (200), it has deepened the democracy practices and increased popular
participation in Vietnam.
If the faction among the elites in the 1990s was characterised by their inclination to
ideology, this pattern is not clearly seen today. Vuving (2010) identified key players in
the Vietnamese politics as the rent-seekers, who are motivated by profits and
promotions. ‘They will side with the conservatives when it comes to the continuation
of the VCP monopoly of power, and with the modernizers when it comes to allow Party
members to own large properties and operate capitalist business’ (Vuving, 2010).
Additionally, people in each camp can switch over time and they are not consistent in
their decisions (Abuza, 2011). For example, PM Dung, a reformer champion who has
transformed Vietnam into one of the most attractive emerging economies in Asia, ran
the whole shows in constructing the SOEs (Brown, 2015). He, and his cabinets,
attempted to build SOEs as the backbones of the economy likes the model of chaebol
in South Korea (Adam, 1995). However, inefficiency in the operation and lack of
mechanism of monitoring lead to the huge bad debts, which received much of criticism.
The near bankruptcy of the SOEs giant ship building Vinashin led by PM Dung
required government rescuing up to $4 billion could not survive (Thu, 2012).
10 He said in an interview, indicating the political liberalisation and economic reforms must be
carried out spontaneously
Predicting the role of Vietnamese elites in current politics in democratization, I have
some observations: Firstly, as the state continue to favour the conservatives because of
their ideology, the reformers, will continue finding extra sources to balance its power
(Vuving, 2010). There are two sources they can rely on: the military and the civil
society. However, it is less likely that the military will stand up and lead a ‘bloody
revolt’ (Abuza, 2001). According to the Constitution 2013, the Military is obligated to
but be ‘loyal to the Party’. Many current important positions are hold by the military
officers, for example, Prime Minister, ensure theirs vested interests. Additionally, more
and more civil society actors, the professional groups, the individuals are engaging
more in the decision-making process through their personal ties with National
Assembly members (Wells-Dang, 2012). However, we are not sure to what extent the
reformers can take the lead in political reform. Though they seem to be more tolerant
to the dissidents, they ‘agree with numerous conservatives to preserve the rule of the
Party’ (Kerkvliet, 2015). Secondly, as observed in other Asian countries, the children
of the political elite go to business and make money dependent on their political ties.
However, when it come to the next generations, as they have enough capital, expertise,
and connections, they can either (1) still profit even the Party even not in power, thus,
may not support the Party if democratization happens, or (2) preserve the Party as their
fortune might have lost; or (3) still ensure their fortunes if it democratizes. In Vietnam,
I have little evidences about these trends. Children of political elites did go abroad and
took their advantages to make profit. However, it is less clear that these fortunes will
lead to the support or against the democratization, or to what extent, the connection is
strong enough that they gamble their fortunes with democratization.
Last but not least, in a political system where the elite choose its own successors, it is
important to examine the next generation’s personnel since the "behaviour of leaders
is guided by their perception of the interests, wishes, and demands of those who control
their tenure in office’ (Vuving, 2010). As the 12th National Congress have concluded
with the new election of PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is perceived as a politically
neutral technocrat who favors a cautious approach to policy-making. The step down of
PM Dung a reformer and the retain of General Secretary Trong an ideological old-
guard’, to many people, this ascendance of a more conservative party leadership could
usher in a period of more conservative economic reform (Brown, 2015).
In sum, though the factions in Vietnam have not yet lead to radical political
liberalization reform yet, they have lead to economic liberalization, and to a lesser
extent, political liberalization. Though the conservatives and modernizers are
negotiating the pace and scope of change, the future of elite-led democratization is still
Significant economic growth leads to the emergence of social classes which can
increase the pressure for democratisation (Kerkvliet, 2015). Gainsborough (2002)
discusses the potential role of five main social classes in processes of democratization
in post-reform Vietnam: the landowners, the peasantry and rural workers, the urban
working class, the bourgeoisie or entrepreneurs, and the salaried and middle classes. In
the scope of the thesis, I choose to discuss about the working class and the middle
classes as they have emerged recently. Additionally, I will examine the role of
organized professional groups in civil society group in the democratization process of
1. Working classes
Collier (1999) suggested the working classes promoters of democratization but whether
the working-class can make significant changes depends on: (1) If they are organized
working class; (2) If they are pro-democratic; (3) If they collaborate with other sectors
of society to press for greater civil liberties (1999:15).
Based on the research of Kerkvliet (2010) on 750 news report from the 1990s until late
2008 and, Anner and Liu’s study (2016)’s study about wildcat strikes over the period
2010 to 2012 drawing national example of 3,943 foreign-invested enterprises, I will
study the pattern of strikes in Vietnam from 1995 to 2012.
Figure 2: Strikes in Vietnam, 1995- 2008
Source: Kerkvliet, 2010; Anner and Liu, 2016
(The number of strikes in 2011 is updated to 978)
After the Reform policies in the 1980s, economic exploitation resulting from rapid
market-oriented transformations, the export-led growth, a boom in low-wages jobs and
low-value-added sectors, and periods of high inflation have led to the increase in the
strikes (Clarke et al., 2009; Chan, 2011). From fewer than 100 during 1995 2001, it
has rised significantly to 978 in 2001, more than 10 times higher in less than a decade,
Vietnam has experienced one of the greatest strike waves in its contemporary history
(Anner et al., 2016). Strikes mostly happened in entirely or partly foreign-owned
enterprises in southern industrial zones (accounting for 70 percent) than in private
enterprises and SOEs (less than 30 percent) (Kerkvliet, 2010; Anner et al., 2016). Those
protests shared some characteristics: (1) Firstly, they are particularly not well-
organized. Most of them began with no identifiable spokespersons, then spread out
among their relatives, friends and colleagues. Due to minimal organization and
planning, they erupted spontaneously; (2) Secondly, there are few signs that they
received significant support from other sectors of society (Kerkvliet 2010). and (3)
Thirdly, most of their complaints are about the better wages, working conditions and
equal treatment, but rarely about the political system, thus not pro-democratic (Do et
al., 2013). Combining all of these elements, therefore, working-classes in Vietnam is
not on headway for democratization at the moment.
The CPV, thus, is usually responsive rather than repressive toward the workers
(Kerkvliet, 2015:432). Though the strikes are still considered illegal in Vietnam,
officials have not criminalised them, but rather tolerate, support workers, blame
foreigners for violating labour law and workers’ rights, and step in to negotiate with
the management (Anner et al., 2016). As Annier et al, (2016) argue though the trade
union follow a laissez-fair attitude, the strikes give it greater legitimacy and necessary
leverage to discuss with the management. The revised Labor Code of 2007 (Article
172a) also allows the workers to choose their own representatives to organize and lead
According to the Vietnam’s Trade Union Law, workers are not allowed to establish
more than one trade union to protect their interests regarding their employment, but
have to register to the only legally registered trade union - Vietnam’s General
Confederation of Labour (VGCL), which is under the supervision of the VCP (Trade
Union Law, 2012). Thus, in the absence of pluralistic unions, the workers have no
freedom of establishing associations. Additionally, the subordination of the unions
under the VCP has restrained them to take necessary steps to reform their own
structures and practices, resist the worker demands to establish their own organization,
and exclude the unions from playing an independent role in the political sphere (Pringle
et al., 2011). The unions, to many critics, generally fail to act as ‘workers’
representatives’ and protect labour rights and their interests (Anner et al., 2016). While
the VCP’s claim as workers and peasants are its two main pillars, the eager to develop
a market economy and attract more foreign investors seem to make two stances wider
(Kerkvliet, 2010).
As soon as the protests gained support from other pro-democracy groups, the state
responses became more confrontational (Hasson, 2015). Since the mid-2000s, there are
some indications and planning and collaboration between workers protests and pro-
democracy work, reportedly the involvement of the large but unauthorized Unified
Buddhist Church of Vietnam. They have called to “protect and promote workers’
rights, including the right to form and join unions without government interference and
for the end of dangerous working conditions(Hasson, 2015). The VCP, thus, arrested
and sentenced several members with the charges of spreading anti-state propaganda,
joining reactionary organisation and abusing their democratic rights by saying negative
and false things about the regime.11 Additionally, along with the conditions of the TPP,
in which Vietnam has become a member, Vietnam has come to comply with the
provisions that to ensure all workers to ‘form a grassroots labor union of their own
choosing..without prior authorization’, and with the right to ‘autonomously elect its
representatives’ (Massmann, 2016). However, as the TPP brings bigger economic
benefits, this conditions will have high probability to be neglected (Strangio, 2016).
In sum, though the workers protests shows less signs as democratization-led
movement, its increasing numbers can be a threat to the political stability, and to a
larger extent, if the collaboration with other sectors of the society become stronger,
they can create greater pressure for democratization.
2. The middle classes
Experiences from democratization in many Western countries suggests that the middle
class usually serves as the strong supporter of democratization and democracy (Eulau,
1956; Lipset, 1959; and Dahl, 1971). Scholars from this approach argue that with
limited resources and clientelistic ties with political elites, a democratic system can
protect their individual rights and private properties (Glassman, 1995). Additionally,
adequate education and leisure time allow the middle class to understand and
participate in public affairs efficiently (Mills, 1953; Lane, 1959). However,
experiences from late developing countries shows that the middle classes take various
stances toward democratization (Brown et al., 1995; Rodan, 1993; and Torii 2003).
The orientation of the middle class toward democracy is contingent upon (1) the middle
class’s dependence on the state, (2) its perceived socio-economic well-being, (3) its
political alliance with other classes (upper or working classes), (4) its own class
cohesiveness (or fragmentation), and (5) its fear of political instability (Chen, 2011).
Based on these criteria, I will analyse the case of the middle class in Vietnam and its
relation with the state.
The economic liberalization in Vietnam in the 1990s has created opportunities for
economic growth and allowed for the private accumulation of wealth as well as
increased complex and diverse social order (Huong, 2015; King et al., 2008). The
middle class in Vietnam, cannot be defined by the Marxist preoccupation with the
11 Arrest between late 2006 and early 2007 were five leaders who, after trials and court
appeals, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from eighteen months to five years
criterion of the ownership and non-ownership of the means of production, but
Weberian notions of market capacity, prestige, employment, and the ‘cultural process
and construction of social identities’ (Pinches, 1996: 123; Hutchinson, 2001: 5455;
Kessler, 2001: 35). They are business owner or high salary eaners in stores restaurants,
vehile dealerships, repair shops, or import-export firms, or in services such as
communications, finances, education, health, and tourism; comprising less than 20
percent of the population and live mostly in urban areas (Belanger et al., 2012;
Drummond, 2012).
Figure 3: Size of middle class by country (based on household survey means)
Source: Chun, 2010
The Survey Assessment of Vietnamese Youth (SAVY)12 (2003-2004) and an
ethnographic investigation in Hanoi between 1992 and 2002 shows that in the
centralized socialist system like Vietnam, many members of the emerging middle class
still owe their position to state provision of such things as education and employment
in the state sector (Gainsborough, 2002: 701-707; 2005 in King et al., 2008).
Additionally, positions of political and administrative power in the local and central
political apparatus frequently enable Vietnamese state officials and entrepreneurs who
have links with senior bureaucrats and politicians to obtain and accumulate wealth
(Koh, 2001b; Taylor, 2004: 15). Most of them accept or at least tolerate the political
status quo and to some degree, thank the Communist government for the current
comfortable living conditions (Kerkvliet, 2015: 433). They also tend to be more
conservatives when it comes to concrete state policies and direction of future economic
and political reform (Lui, 2005). The disparity in the income shows there are great
segments in the divisions of them (ADB, 2010). The continuing close relationship
12 The survey was undertaken by the Vietnamese government (Ministry of Health and the
General Statistics Office) and United Nations agencies (the World Health Organization and the
United Nations Children’s Fund). Out of the 7,584 participants, 226 in the age group of 19-25
were selected as interviewees (76 men and 150 women). Of the 226 interviewed, 143 lived and
worked in four large cities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong, and Da Nang), and the
remaining 83 were found in smaller urban centers across the country.
between members of the middle class and the state, their perceived socio-economic
well-being, and the class’s fragmentation suggests that, there is little evidence that a
significant political identity or an interest in mobilizing resources emerging among
Vietnamese middle classes (Kerkvliet, 2001: 263269; Thomas, 2003: 170188; and
Nguyen, 2005).
However, high education, booming of Internet usage, and travelling abroad may
change the perspectives of the new young middle-classes. With the increasing number
of middle-class Vietnamese travelling abroad and using Internet (with over 30 percent
one of the highest rate in Southeast Asia), accessing email, FB, Youtube; reading
national and international newspaper; and listening to worldwide broadcasts, they are
exposing to new different ways of doing things, which can make them less tolerant to
the current system (Gainsborough, 2002). Among them were the bloggers,
demonstrators, and petitioners who criticize the political system, though such
sentiments are only concentrated in large cities which exercise a degree of discretion
outside of government control or action (Kerkvliet, 2005:433). Recently, Mai Khoi, a
young Vietnamese singer, ran for the 12th National Assembly election in March 2016,
to no surprise, she failed from the screening process13 (Hookway, 2016).
Predicting the future, King et al., (2008) suggests that though the state maintain a
relatively grip on the ways in which young people plan their futures and make decisions
about their econmic affairs, their influence may loosen and open the wider choice for
young people. However, even in that case, we are not sure that such guarantee will
foster their collaboration with the peasants and working classes, and civil and pressure
groups, or will include the interests of the poor in their political platform or reform
agenda, or will be primarily about their own interests (Lui, 2005). With the estimation
that the middle class in Vietnam will grow to 33 out of 97 million of Vietnamese
population by 2020, nonetheless, they will play a certain role in any economic, social
or political change in Vietnam (Huong, 2015).
3. Civil society
Diamond (1994:5), Bratton (1989) and Baker (1997) asserted that civil society, by
virtue of their participatory and democratic approach, played a crucial role in the
democratization transition process. Civil society is generally defined as ‘the realm of
13 To run for National Assembly, the candidate has to go through five rounds of selection,
much is controlled by the VCP. Starting from 2002, the VCP allowed the independent
candidate to run for the National Assembly.
organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, self- supporting, autonomous
from the state, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules’ (Diamond, 1994).
However, far from the ideal type of civil society and its supposed role of
democratization, civil society in Vietnam is described as ‘semi-civil society’ (White,
1996:207), ‘state-led civil society’ (Lux et al., 2004; Frolic, 1997), ‘immature, nascent,
fledging’ (He, 2003; Thayer, 1992), or ‘dependent autonomy’ (Lu, 2008).
Based on the Civil Society Index study (CSI)14 (CIVICUS, 2005), Hannah (2007) and
Thayer’s (2009) about civil society in Vietnam from 2004 to 200715, I argue that the
close ties with the Party-state, its limitations in resources and capacity, and lack of
collaboration between different groups are hindering the role of civil society in
democratization process in Vietnam.
Figure 4: Spectrum of Vietnamese civil roles
Source: Hannah, 2007
Figure 5: Classifications of CSOs in Vietnam
14 Based on the methodology of CIVIUS, a research NGO operated worldwide in asoocialtion
civil society
15 Civil Society Index study (CSI) in the period 2005-2006 and Thayer (2009) about political
civil society in the period 2004 - 2007
Type of civil
Relation to the
mber of
civil society
Fatherland Front
2.8 million
3.5 million
4.2 million
5.4.3 million
and umbrella
with an umbrella
organisation at
the provincial or
central level
1.Red Cross:5
million members;
2.320 national
PAs and around
2,000 local ones
Vietnam Union
of Science and
(VUSTA), Line
Provincial or
District People’s
320 organisations
identified in 2000;
200 social funds;
800 science and
12 million
members of credit
groups; rural
groups 1-200,000.
No figures are
Source: CVIUS, 2006; Thayer, 2009
From the charts, I have three observations: Firstly, most of the civil society, which are
associational type, cluster on the right side of the chart. They work as partners with the
Government in providing goods and servvices, and improving social welfares (Hannah,
2007). They, in turn, ‘enhance the legitimacy and efficiency’ of the Party, and promote
greater public participation in the decision-making process16 (London, 2014: 168; and
Wischermann, 2011 :385). Secondly, only a few organisations have expanded their
role to the left to act as policy advocates and lobbying (Wells-Dang, 2014). In Vietnam,
currently, there is not yet developed civil society acting as watchdogs to expose
corruption, only a few progressive journalists in national newspapers (Thayer, 2009).
No privately-owned newspaper or other media are allowed to run (Thayer, 2009).
Thirdly, the political civil society only makes up only a small fraction of civil society
in Vietnam (London, 2014:180). To name some, they are the Club of Former
Resistance Fighters, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Vit Tân, or Bloc 8406
(Abuza, 2001; Thayer, 2009)17. Since the 2000s, they have worked collectively to form
explicitly political organisations (Thayer, 2009). In 2006, they issued a Manifesto on
Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam, which received over 2,000 signatories;
however, the movement was soon repressed (Human Rights Watch, 2006).
16 Also known as Grassroot Democracy, which was issued by the VCP in 1998 after the
protest in Thai Binh to encourage people participate in local development activities and
supervise local government
17 For more details, see the Annex of the name and activities of opposition political party in
available for other
informal groups
Political civil
Estimated 12
political groups
domestic and
Estimated 2,000
who signed
Manifesto of
Democracy and
Human rights
In the next section, I argue that the close tie with the VCP, limited capacity and
resources, and lack of collaboration between different groups hinder the potentials of
the civil society in leading democratization movement.
Firstly, any new organisation must register with ‘umbrella organisations’ or state-
entities such as FatherFront, VUSTA, which closely under the supervision of the VCP
(Vasavakul, 2003). All projects and foreign funding must be submited to the
organisations’ supervising agency for approval (Wells-Dang, 2014). Organisations
may act independently in their finance, personnel, and programming decisions, but all
are ‘political conrol’. They cannot violate ‘social stability’ or ‘national security’,
otherwise, they will be shut down (Wells-Dang, 2014).
Secondly, limited capacity and resources expose the weakness of civil society in
Vietnam. Most of social organisations, except the mass organisations, are small in size,
recently formed, and have limited experiences in policy advocacy (Taylor et al., 2012).
Even the political civil society groups lacked a large geographically dispersed
membership base, received most of their funding from relatives, human rights, or
democracy support groups from abroad, which make them less sustainable (Thayer,
Thirdly, most of the associational civil society groups do not collaborate with civil
society, which make the civil society more fragmented. There is essentially no overlap
between the associational civil society and the dissidents, bloggers, and demonstrators
in land disputes or any forms of political activism (Wells-Dang, 2014). Even among
the political civil society groups, the seperation between different interests among
different groups from unions, indepedent churches, to abroad dissidents make the
police and security easy to spot and suppress them (London, 2014; Abuza, 2011).
In sum, the civil society in Vietnam is less likely to play a prominent role in
democratization prospects. How and under what conditions, the associational civil
society groups in the right will move closer and collaborate with the political and
opposition civil groups in the left spectrum, I will leave this question for the next study.
What is the prospect for the democratisation of Vietnam? Different scholars have
different interpretations of the current political processes: some see ‘weakness and
decay’ (Vu, 2014), others see ‘resilience and strength’ (Thayer, 2009), whereas some
see ‘increased accountability’ (Malesky, 2010) and ‘toleration of dissent’ (Kervliet,
2015), some reckon as the ‘increase of state repression’ (Abuza, 2011). However, all
agree that the contemporary authoritarian regime in Vietnam is characterised by
considerable intra-state competition and increased demand for reforms, both from
within and outside (London, 2014:185)
Projecting the democratization probability in Vietnam, Thayer (2009) draws four
Figure 6: Four scenarios of democratization in Vietnam
Crisis event
Economic downturn
couple with political
instability lead to a
reversion of
authoritarian rule
groups take the
The elite in power
initiates change
Joint action by
elements of the
power elites and
elements of the
Source: Thayer, 2009
Based on the detailed analysis in the previous sections and the current socio-political
situation in Vietnam, I will briefly examine each scenario. Firstly, regarding to crisis
events, although Vietnam’s economics has been experienced prolonged slow-down
since 2008 with high public debt and rising corruption, socio-economic achievements
after 30 years since Doi Moi still helps the Party earn legitimacy and general support
among people (Hiep. 2013). According to the survey of Asian Barometer during 2010-
2012, the level of ‘regime support’ among Vietnamese respondents averaged 3.4 out
of 4.0, or 85 percent, the highest level among the 11 surveyed Asian countries (Chu et
al., 2012:7). Additionally, the transformation from the centrally-planned economy into
the socialist-oriented market economy shows the great adaptability of the Party. Its
increasing role in providing goods and services, as well as ability in developing close
ties with different classes in the society, especially the middle class, make the people
more tolerant to the current system (King et al., 2008).
Secondly, about the oppositions groups, the opposition groups are minuscule at present
that they are unlikely to make dramatic changes (Wells-Dang, 2014). Most of the civil
society see themselves as a Party apparatus to help the state implement the policy rather
than oppose or confront with the Party-state (Thayer, 2009). The political civil society
only accounts for a small faction in the civil society of Vietnam with dispersed
membership base, weakly financially-funded, mostly have domains abroad, and not
gain widespread public support (Hiep, 2013). Recently, an identifiable pro-democracy
movement known as 8406 called for regime change and attracted more than 2,000
intellectuals, professionals, to sign for the Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for
Vietnam in 2006, but soon repressed by the government. Increasing pressure from
peasants and workers from land confiscations disputes and wildcat strikes also impose
a threat to the political stability, but these protest are usually unorganized, lack of
collaboration between different groups, and not pro-democratic. Additionally, the
government are usually responsive rather than repressive toward these protests,
therefore, these social movements are under the control of the VCP.
Thirdly, most of the scholars agree that the best scenario for democratization in
Vietnam is a top-down reform (Hiep, 2013; Thayer, 2009; and Gainsborough, 2002).
There are evidences that Vietnam’s leaders are negotiating among themselves about
the pace and scope of change to ‘expand dialogue’ between authorities and activists in
the ‘democracy movement’ though we are not sure how far it goes (Thayer, 2009).
Historical experiences show that in the weakest moment of the conservatives in the
1980s, the reformers did not throw off the regime, and ‘agree with numerous
conservatives to preserve the leadership role of the CPV (Kerkvliet, 2015;
Gainsborough, 2002). Additionally, when the current politics of Vietnam is mostly
dominated by the rent-seekers, the future of elite-led democratisation is still uncertainty
(Vuving, 2010). However, increasing fragmentation, decentralisation, bureaucratic
competition and personal interests among the Vietnamese elites can broaden the
political space, allow the opportunities for civil society to engage in the policy-making
process and channel the voices of the people, which leads to the last scenario (Wells-
Dang, 2014).
Fourthly, the cooperation between the elites and social groups lead to democratisation
is faint at least, but it can increase the political liberalisation (Thayer, 2009). The
revision of the Vietnamese 1992 Constitution in 2013, despite failure, is a test for the
degree of involvement and influence of civil society. More than 14,400 organisations
and individuals inside and outside Vietnam, including NGOs, Working Groups,
military officers, economists, bishops, artists, and writers, proposed alternative drafts,
stressing the land rights, free education and health care, gay marriage, and calling for
the abolishment of Article 4, which stated “the Party’s role as the leading force in the
state and society’ (iSEE, 2013). Another example is the controversy over a bauxite
mining project involved a Chinese firm and state-owned mining firm in the Central
Highlands. Public debate over national security, environmental protection, and impacts
on livelihoods of the indigenous has been attracted thousands of NGOs, bloggers,
overseas activists, and senior political leaders up to General Võ Nguyên Giáp (Wells-
Dang, 2014). As a result of public criticism, the scale of bauxite mining is much smaller
than that originally approved in 2007 (CODE, 2010).
Having considered the four scenarios, it is no exaggeration to conclude that Vietnam
will not democratize in the coming decade. As long as the CPV can maintain the socio-
economic growth, its close ties with different classes on economic benefits offerings,
and grip control over security fore and civil society, it will be more likely to keep a
grip on power. In the long run, however, the increase in public political awareness, the
emergence of a stronger and better organized opposition movement, and the increasing
splits among the Vietnamese elites will be essential factors for Vietnam to transform
towards liberal democracy (Hiep, 2013).
Additionally, though Vietnam has not yet evolved to procedural democracy, it is clearly
liberalising (Hiep, 2013; Thayer, 2009; and Wells-Dang, 2014; Gainsborough, 2002;
and Kerkvliet, 2015:437). To the 12th National Congress, the CPV remains the leading
force in the Vietnam’s politics. For the immediate future, whether the CPV can
successfully restore favorable socio-economic conditions will be key to Vietnam’s
political development. In the longer term, the increase in public political awareness and
the emergence of a stronger and better organized opposition movement will be essential
factors in determining when and how Vietnam will evolve towards substantive
Standing as one of five last Communist countries in the world, the CPV is today faced
with a qualitatively new set of challenges. Contemporary Vietnam is experiencing
important changes in the indeterminate phase in its political development (London,
2014). The political scene is more open and uncertain than in the past. Will in the end
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TABLE 1: Average life span of regimes, 1972 - 2003
Average life span (years)
Dominant limited multiparty
Non-dominant limited multiparty
Democratic multiparty
Source: Axel et al., 2007
During 1990s 2000s
(1930) Ho Chi Minh founded Indochinese Communist Party (ICP)
(1940) World War II began, Japan invaded Vietnam
(1945) Viet Minh seized power, Ho Chi Minh announced Vietnam's
(1946 - 1954) French-Viet Minh War (First Vietnam War) - China and USSR
(Russia) supported Ho Chi Minh; USA supported France in order to contain
spread of Communism
(1954) French defeated by Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu
(1954) Meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland with representation from Vietnam,
France, U.S.; agreement made to divide country into two parts: Communist-ruled
north, republic in the south
(1955) Anti-Communism leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to implement Geneva
accords, declared himself president of Republic of South Vietnam; received
backing from the West
(1960) National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) formed as anti-Diem, anti-US in
(1961) USA President Kennedy increased military aid to South Vietnam
(1963) Viet Cong defeated units of the South Vietnamese Army
(1964) North Vietnamese attacked USA destroyer in Gulf of Tonkin
(1965) 200,000 American combat troops arrived in South Vietnam, beginning of
(Second) Vietnam War
(1968) Tet Offensive - assault by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army on USA
positions, more than 500 civilians died at My Lai in USA counter-offensive
(1969) North Vietnamese leader, Hi Chi Minh died
(1970) USA national security advisor Henry Kissinger, and Le Duc Tho of Hanoi
government, began talks in Paris
(1973) Paris Peace Agreements reached
(1975) Communists captured Saigon, over 65,000 South Vietnamese killed
(1975) South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam; Saigon renamed Ho Chi
Minh City
(1976) Socialist Republic of Vietnam officially proclaimed
(1976) Vietnamese Works Party renamed Vietnam Communist Party
(1977) Vietnam joined United Nations
(1979) Vietnam invaded Cambodia, ousted Khmer Rouge regime of Communist
leader Pol Pot
(1979) Chinese troops crossed Vietnam's northern border, repelled by
Vietnamese forces
(1984) Chinese launched attacks against Vietnam
(1986) Nguyen Van Linh became party leader, introduced program of social,
market reforms and more liberal economic policy
(1988) Over 70 Vietnamese sailors killed in clashes with Chinese troops over
Spratly Islands
(1989) Vietnamese troops withdrew from Cambodia
(1991) Relationships normalized with China
(1992) New constitution adopted, allowed certain economic freedoms
(1993) Border crossings for trade with China were opened
(1993) USA and Vietnam worked together to recover remains of American
soldiers missing since the war
(1994) USA lifted 30-year trade embargo
(1995) Vietnam and USA restored full diplomatic relations
(1995) Vietnam joined Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
(1998) Asian financial crisis caused slump in economy
(1999) After calling for more democracy and freedom of expression, Tran Do,
former high-ranking party member, was expelled
2000s continued
(2000) Liberal companies law established, 54,000 new private businesses began
over next three years
(2001) US, Vietnam implemented trade agreement normalizing trade between
2008) Over 300 strikes took place in first quarter
(2008) Border dispute between China and Vietnam resolved after 30 years
(2010) Activist and human rights lawyer, Le Cong Dinh, and three others jailed
on charges of attempting to overthrow government
(2012) Protests in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi held over maritime territorial
disputes with China
Source: World Atlas, 2015
By analysing the decision-making process of the VCP, the country’s most important
political force, and examining the successful case of economic reforms in 1986 of how
the reformers took over the conservatives, I reveal the mechanisms for radical changes
to take place in the political system in Vietnam, thus, explain why previous elite-led
democratisation movement failed, and open the prospects for a new political reform
for Vietnam after its recent 12th National Congress.
Structure of powers
The mightiest political elite in Vietnam are the leaders of the Communist Party,
including top officials in the government, military, police, and other parts of the state;
accounting for nearly 5 percent of the population18 (Kerkvliet, 2015). Below is the
diagram explained the Communist Party structure on the left and Government and
administrative apparatus on the right.
Figure 1: The VCP and Government structure in Vietnam
Source: Abrami et al., 2010
The VCP has the most powers in the politics of Vietnam, which issued the directives
to guide every major affairs of the state and supervise the state apparatus through the
system of central committee commissions (Vasavakul, 2003). Its primary legislature
influence is to through the National Congress19. Below table describe the general role
and selection process of the important organ of the VCP.
Figure 2: Description of roles of organs and the selction process in the VCP
Role and responsibilities
Party Congress
Legislative body of the Party. Delegates are chosen from the elections at the
provincial level and central levels, including members from central institutions
of the Party, millitary, government appratus and state-owned enterprises. The
Resolutions of the Party Congress set out the directives for national policy
goals, which eventually takes legal form as National Assembly laws, Prime
Minister Decrees, and Government impmenting documents.
Central Committee
The Party Congress will elect the Central Committee (CC), considered the
highest authoritative and the representative organ of the VCP. The CC has the
powers to make decisions independently, and even to overrule the Politburo
18 To March 2016, the Vietnamese Communist Party members are 4.5 million compared to the
total population of 91 million (BBC Vietnamese, 2016; VOV, 2016)
19 In Vietnam, legislature is done through National Congress and National Assembly. As
National Congress associates with the VCP and have more ‘real’ power compared to merely
‘rubber-stamp’ National Assembly, I choose to analyse the National Congress (Malesky et al.,
(Vasavakul, 2003). The CC forge the Party’s response to crises and ensure
there is a consensus for top party leadership’s decisions.
The Central Committee elects the Politburo and the General Secretary. The
Politburo is the executive organ of the party, including top officials from the
party apparatus, Government, and military. The General Secretary, the head
of the Party, has ultimate authority on the overall direction of the state policy,
but no legislative or executive role in the government appratus.
Generall Secretary
Diffused troikia
Troika, a consolidated element of Vietnam’s political institutional
architecture, consists of a triangle of cross-checking central positions the
General secretary of the VCP, the President, and the Prime Minister, who
constitutional powers and patronage channels are seperated for formal and
informal checks both within the party, and between the party and the state
Section process:
Source: Abrami et al., 2010
From the descriptions, I draw three observations: (1) The Politburo, with a few
members is among the top powerful decision-making organ of the VCP (unlike the
Central Commitee with over hundreds of members and the only one elected General
Secretary); (2) The National Congress have both central and provincial delegates, and
follow the collective leadership principle, which follows the majority rule; and (3) The
Politburo can use the National Congress to direct and pass their own political agenda.
Vietnamese’s political system characteristics
Formally, politics in Vietnam follows the principles of democratic centralism and
collective leadership. Firstly, according to the democratic centralism, policies are
designed at the central decision-making institutions, then come to influence the
programs and activities of the ministries, provinces, and lower-level localities. In this
pattern, interest aggregation and articulation are top-down (Painter, 2003). However,
Thayer (1986) pointed out local actors can assert their policy preferences through
fence-breaking strategies as they collectively did in the 1980s. In this case, middle level
cadres can probably play an important role in pushing the reform policy forward
(Vasavakul, 2003). Secondly, following the principle of collective leadership, any
critical decisions should involve the leaders of Party, National Assembly and
Government in an effort to compromise the political preferences of the key politicians
(Vu, 2010). This leads to the sharing of responsibility as well as political risks, but
make it hard to identify clear decision makers or decision points (Ingle, 2011). Due to
this consensus-seeking decision-making pattern, even the CPV General Secretary,
considered the country’s most powerful politician, could not wield enough authority to
maintain effective party discipline and to impose radical changes (Hiep, 2013).
Informally, Abuza (2016) points out the Vietnam’s political system is characterised by
factionalism and clientelism. Firstly, Vuving (2010) identified three players in the
politics of Vietnam: modernizers, conservatives, and rent-seekers. It is based on the
person’s priority or inclination toward ideology (open or close to Western liberal
ideas), the VCP’s relation to the nation (superior or inferior), and their motives.
Accordingly, the modernizers is opt for opennesss, whole-nation’s perspective, and
tend to be more tolerant toward dissidents. The conservatives, on the other hand, opt
for ‘closed door’ policy, party first, and prioritize regime preservation. The rent
seekers, are not motivated by any ideology, but profit and money20. Secondly,
Gainsborough (2007) states the Vietnamese political system is based on patron-client
ties. Back in the 1980s, Muoi General Secretary had control of the VCP and state-
owned enterprises (SOEs). Kiet Prime Minister had control of the bureaucracy. Anh
President had power over the military and its sizable business sector, with nearly
seventy thousand soldiers (12 percent of the standing army) (Abuza, 2002; Thayer,
1994). Mid- and senior-level cadres will only support and implement policies that have
the support of their patrons. Thus, bold policy initiatives will not be made or
implemented without the backing of their patrons. (Abuza, 2016; and Gainsborough,
Economic reforms in the 1990s and tactics of reformers
Beginning in the early 1980s, an economic crisis weakened the power of conservative
party elements (Stern, 1993). The moral authority of the founding members, and the
institution of the Politburo itself, had come into question (Viet, 2006).
As noted before, the division between the conservatives and the reformers become clear
since the 1990s when the economy on the verge of bankcruptcy.
Leading the modernizers were two high-ranking Politburo members, Nguyen Van Linh
and Vo Van Kiet. Seizing the opportunity in the 1980s, they pushed through a series of
20 Vuving (10) suggests while capitalism offer opportunities to make profit, communism
offers a monopoly of power. The mixture of two create a conducive circle for both using
money to buy power and using power to make money (Vuving, 2010).
incremental reform by empowering the Central Committee vis-à-vis the Politburo
(Riedel et al., 1999). Specifically, they maneuvered to have more provincial leaders,
who were in their patrons and had the same reform-oriented mind, and alternate the
members in the Congress (Malesky, 2009). This change effectively allowed more local
voices and voices from their camps to influence policy reform (Viet, 2006). At the
Sixth Party Congress in 1986, they expanded their modernizers camps number of
provincial voters by 60 percent, thus, knocked out the conservatives side, successfully
passed the economic reform proposal (Abuza, 2002).
Based on these anaysis and obersvations, I identify three necessary conditions for a
radical change in Vietnam: (1) Strong leadership: Reformist leaders who hold
important positions, at least in the Politburo to push for reform top-down as well as
toward the Conservatives; (2) Strong networks of collaboration between central and
provincial level: He/she had a strong patronage networks at the provincal and central
level; and (3) Fence breaking to create the push from bottom-up: Local and mid-level
officials support for reformist ideas/programs, or have their own initiatives through
Figure 4: Proposed framework for political reform in Vietnam
Source: Author’s proposal
Reformers (at least
Politburo member)
Local level
Increase votes in
Party Congress
Party of
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.
Populist Party
(VPP, Dang Vi
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 would invite repression and dampen recruitment.
Party of
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.
Committee for
Human Rights
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.
Association of
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 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
Bloc 8406
Founded on 8 April 2006
Party (VPP)
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
Alliance for
and Human
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.
Source: Thayer, 2009
TABLE 5: Summary table of 62 regime dissidents in Vietnam
HN= Hà Ni
HCMC = H Chí Minh City
Othere = elsewhere in Vietnam
DRV = Active supporter of or participant in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
government (1945 75)
CP mem = Communist Party member
Mil mem = military veteran
Solitary = not publicly a member of a dissident political party (Poli party), publication
(Newspaper, etc), or formal organisation (Advoc organ.)
Source: London, 2014: 117
TABLE 6: Vietnam’s tactics in foreign relations over US-China
Infiltration of democratic norms
Model 1: Distant from both the
United States and China
Model 3: Distant from US
deference to China
Model 2: Deference to the
United States; reassuring
Model 4: Parallel cooperation
with both the United States and
Source: Liu et al., 2015
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Relations between China and Vietnam followed a checkered path since both countries reemerged as modern states after World War II. Within half a century, official definitions of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship traveled from “comrades plus brothers” (1949–1977) to “dangerous enemies” (1979–1988) to “good neighbors, good friends, good partners, good comrades” (from 2002). While the deterioration occurred abruptly (1977–1979), the improvement took a decade (1988-1999). Cooperation seems much harder to achieve than conflict, and yet the two countries have settled their conflicts even in zero-sum issues such as territory and major power influence. Toward the end of the twentieth century and at the dawn of the twenty-first, Vietnam and China reached two turning points regarding these issues, which reflect a new plateau on which the Sino-Vietnamese relationship is situated. In December 1999, China and Vietnam signed a land border treaty that is the first since the Franco-Qing pacts of 1887 and 1895 to legally delimit territorial boundaries between them. A year later, another agreement on the delimitation of maritime border in the Gulf of Tonkin was concluded.2 In 2005, Vietnam arrived at an unprecedented situation in which it maintained equidistance between and, at the same time, amicable relationships with China and the United States—two major powers rivaling for influence in the region. The central question of this chapter is: What caused these two turning points? Particularly, I will explain why China and Vietnam adopted the actions that led to these landmarks of cooperation.
This section presents the third volume of Max Weber's fundamental work Economy and Society which has been translated into Russian for the first time. The third volume includes two works devoted to the sociology of law. The first, 'The Economy and Laws', discusses differences between sociological and juridical approaches to studies of social processes. It describes peculiarities of normative power arenas (orders) at different levels and demonstrates how they influence the economy. The second, 'Economy and Law' ('Sociology of Law'), reviews the evolution of law orders (primarily, the three "greatest systems of law" including Roman Law, Anglo-American Law, and European Continental Law) in the context of changes in the organization of economy and structures of dominancy. Law is considered an influential factor of the rationalization of social life which in turn is affected by a rationalized economy and social management. The Journal of Economic Sociology here publishes an excerpt from the chapter 'Law, Convention and Custom' in this third volume, which shows the role of the habitual in the formation of law; explains the importance of intuition and empathy for the emergence of new orders; and discusses the changeable borders between law, convention and custom. The translation is edited by Leonid Ionin and the chapter is published with the permission of HSE Publishing House. © 2018 National Research University Higher School of Economics. All rights reserved.