Vietnam is governed
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formally established
in July, 1976, upon the official reunification of
North and South Vietnam. It has only one party, the
Vietnamese Communist Party founded in 1930 by Ho Chi
Minh, usually referred to as ‘the Party’.
The centre of power is the Political Bureau, (usually
abbreviated to ‘Politburo’). Members are
elected by the 125-strong Central Committee of the
Party, and include the General Secretary, the highest
in rank, followed by the President and the Prime Minister.
Policy decisions are
initiated at Politburo/Central Committee level, and
passed on to a unicameral 500 member National Assembly
that meets for about a month twice a year to discuss
and enact the necessary legislation. National Assembly
proceedings are reported in the press.
Members of the National Assembly are elected at local
level every five years. Suffrage is universal, but
candidates for election must be approved by the Party.
Party Congresses are held at irregular intervals to
discuss major policy issues. There have been eleven
Congresses so far, the most recent being in 2002.
A Party Congress takes place behind closed doors –
debate is sometimes very intense as proceedings can
involve major policy changes. For example, the sixth
Congress approved the policy of ‘doi moi’
ushering in a new era of openness and engagement with
the international community, a massive policy shift
from USSR-style isolation as ‘a state of proletarian
The country is administered
by about two dozen government Ministries.
The central government is replicated to a large degree
in each of Vietnam’s sixty or so provinces.
Each has a Party Committee with an executive level,
of which the General Secretary is the most senior
post, and a People’s Committee to enact legislation
passed down from the National Assembly. Members of
People’s Committees are elected from lower levels
of administration, precincts and wards in urban areas,
districts and communes elsewhere. The Ministry structure
is replicated as local Departments in a direct line
of the Provinces
Foreign sources often portray Vietnam's provincial
authorities as simple administrative bodies with little
power. This is far from reality. Provinces have considerable
autonomy, and their views are a powerful influence
upon central government thinking. Indeed, one of Vietnam’s
problems is that the delicate balance of power between
centre and local administration often hinders national
co-ordination. Tourism is a good and relevant example:
provincial autonomy has led to a variety of arrangements,
structures and polices in different provinces, and
frequent duplication of investment.
Red tape and
As in most countries, bureaucracy is a problem in
Vietnam. ‘Law’ is a comparatively new
concept (until the 1990’s, Vietnam had no further
education law institutions). Much legislation takes
the form or regulations and circulars that are passed
down to local level for implementation. Interpretations
often differ from area to area, and much paperwork
is generated in attempts to standardise procedures.
involves more than one ministry. As communication
is almost entirely vertical, there is little co-ordination
between different ministries and Departments leading
to long delays and frustration. Recently, the government
has tried to speed things up by laying down time limits
for particular activities, but bureaucrats everywhere
are skilled in the art of finding exceptions to such
rules and generating more forms to be completed!
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