Vietnam elects new National Assembly


By Stephen Robson

Following far-reaching changes to the Vietnamese constitution, elections were held on July 19 for a radically pruned 395-person National Assembly. Previously 496 places existed.

Of the new constitution's 148 articles, only a handful have been retained from the 1980 constitution. Many of the changes codify modifications made in the intervening years. Private citizens' right to engage in business and to own means of production are recognised.

While land is still owned collectively by the country, peasants — 75% of the population — now have the right to transfer the use of the land.

Other changes involve clearly separating the role of the party and state. Already the Communist Party has rationalised the overlap with state bodies by reducing Central Committee departments from 32 to 12.

Since 1989 a special committee has worked on at least three drafts of the constitution, the last finally being adopted by the outgoing National Assembly in April.

Two years ago, Do Muoi, now general secretary of the Communist Party, called for the "development of genuinely democratic institutions to care for the people, protect the people and create the necessary conditions for the people to participate in the running of all the nation's affairs".

Under the new constitution, up to one-third of the deputies will work full time to consider new legislation. In the past the assembly met twice yearly.

The Council of State has been abolished, being replaced by a president with specific administrative responsibilities. The incoming assembly will elect a new president from within its ranks.

The president has the right to nominate candidates for premier as well as for the positions of chief justice of the Supreme People's Court and head of the Supreme People's Inspectorate. Each of these appointments must be ratified by the National Assembly.

The head of state will also become commander of the armed forces and as such chair of the newly established Council on National Defence and Security.

Instead of a Council of Ministers, the premier will form a cabinet. While the premier must be a member of parliament, ministers need not.

An election law adopted earlier this year permits anyone over 21 to run as a candidate subject to approval by neighbourhood and workplace. Voters participated in a preliminary round of selecting candidates. In some cases, nominees were deleted from the list of candidates because of dissatisfaction with their qualifications. Nominations closed in June with 602 candidates.