How 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.
The National Assembly
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 dictatorship’.
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 from Hanoi.
The importance 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 regulations
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.
Much administration 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!