In 1994, for the first time in Vietnam, the Law on Election of the People’s Councils and People’s Committees at all local levels allowed independent candidates, that is, self-nomination.
This is an unprecedented innovation in Vietnam.
Before 1994, candidates for the election of the people’s council were only people nominated by organizations, but actually introduced by the Việt Nam communist party.
At first, I did not pay much attention to this open-minded- policy. Vietnamese people are still not familiar with the democracy. Vietnamese people don’t pay much attention to elections, both for the National Assembly and for the local People’s Council, even though nearly 100% of voters participated in each election.
The monopoly on elections in Vietnam which have been conducted so far have made people not interested much in the election and whom they will vote for.
When going to the polls, seeing lists of candidates and photographs of the candidates posted in the constituency, not much voters care about these candidates. If anyone is interested, they just stop for a few minutes to read and research the biographies of the candidates posted under the photos. But the candidate’s few biographies and portraits don’t say much.
And finally, not many people believe in the vote counting results. People say to each other that whether they voted, or not vote for this or that candidates, these candidates will still win with high votes.
Because in Vietnam there is no independent vote counting agency.
In Vietnam, not many people think that their vote can decide the fate of the country. Because people still think that the Việt Nam communist party decides everything, not the people.
That’s why people vote for the formality only, vote based on feelings, vote for fun, not serious vote because people do not choose this person or that person, instead, party choose.
With such an highly formal election, the election is very emotional, and arbitrary. People with big positions, often appearing on television and newspapers, are known by many people, so it is easy to get elected.
Even at my office, Dai Doan Ket newspaper, which is known as a press agency fighting for democracy and social justice, but every time the party cell meeting of my newspaper Dai Doan Ket is held, the meeting room is closed and locked, not let anyone to look at.
We young journalist that not party members, stay ouside of meeting room, often joke:
“Hey, the other party members seem to be discussing some kind of harmful reactionary reaction against the government, because they’re meeting in such a closed room, afraid of not letting anyone know.”
So in 1994, I didn’t care that the election law allowed independent candidates, self-nomination.
One day, Mr. Ngo Cuong, a reporter of Dai Doan Ket newspaper in charge of writing about the election, went to a press conference on the election committee, and came back to the Dai Doan Ket office tells me that Hanoi had no self-nominated candidates, but the deadline for submitting applications was soon come.
He looked dejected, sighing heavily. “People are still not familiar with democracy,” he said.
I look at Mr. Ngo Cuong sitting and sighing deeply, and also feel annoyed with the situation that people are not used to democracy.
“Yes, keep asking for democracy, but now that the Việt Nam communist party and state have given it to you, but you don’t know how to implement it,” I muttered.
Then I suddenly felt that I was unreasonable.
Who are the common people?
I am also a citizen.
So if I don’t know how to exercise that democratic right, I should not blame others.
So I blurted out to Mr. Ngo Cuong:
-Hey, Mr. Cuong, or should I run myself for an election?
– Yeah, why not? Mr. Cuong looked at me a bit surprised and immediately agreed. “You can apply”.
Without time to think, I immediately asked Mr. Cuong for a set of guidelines documents for the candidacy, and read it voraciously, still not having a clear plan in mind.
In the afternoon, I went to the headquarters of the Hanoi Fatherland Front, on Hai Ba Trung Street, which was the headquarters of the Hanoi Election Council (this is the place of the former US embassy during the French colonial period, now, the communist era, after these elections, was returned it to the US Embassy for use).
Received me was an elderly man who looked very gentle.
-Are you comrade going to nominate yourself? This uncle asked me very seriously, using the word “comrade” to call me.
-So, which ward are you going to run for?
-No, I am,,,I hesitated a bit,,,”I don’t run for ward level election”.
– Then in which district election?
– Hmm, no distict either, I want,,,,,-I haven’t dared to say my intentions yet to this uncle.
-Then where are you going to run for election? Obviously, this old man doesn’t believe that I will run for Hanoi city level election.
-“Yes, I intend to apply for a seat on the People’s Council of Hanoi,” I said boldly.
This uncle looked at me a little surprised, but then smiled politely and warmly invited me to the upstairs room right away.
I guess this old guy was taking me up to the second floor, and thinking about what kind of person I am.
This old uncle gave me a set of candidate documents, explained in detail how to do it, and urged me to hurry up, because the registration time was running out.
I brought the file back, made a resume, and asked Mr. Ngoc Thach Editor-in-Chief to sign for me. The Editor-in-Chief looked at me in surprise, but then also seemed amused by my intention to run for Hanoi election. He quickly signed my background-CV check.
The next day, I immediately brought the dossier up to the old man the day before at the Hanoi Election Council.
Only a few days later, the Election Council officerswent to Dai Doan Ket newspaper to work with the newspaper’s leaders and prepare for the first voting meeting for me.
The first round vote is that the candidate’s body must cast a vote of confidence for the candidate.
All staffs and journalists of Dai Doan Ket will cast ballots for my first.
The vote at my office was held, with representatives of the Central Fatherland Front, then the Hanoi Fatherland Front, and representatives of the Hanoi Election Council.
I began to feel a little worried, because I saw that my simple job, which is to exercise my citizenship, could get the special attention of the State agencies.
At the voting meeting of Dai Doan Ket newspaper, I had to give my opinion and explain why I would like to stand for the election.
It’s hard to say.
It was the first time in my life that I had to speak on such a big, serious matter.
At that time, I was Hanoi’s first independent candidate, and also one of the first six people in the whole country to apply for self-nomination, in the entire history of Communist Vietnam. (out of these 6 people, only 2 are left in the end, it’s me in Hanoi, and a doctor in Saigon)
Finally, I say briefly, gist:
-Since the party and the state allow people for the first time to exercise the right to stand for self-nomination, I think that I, as a citizen, should exercise the right given to me by the party and the state. I am a journalist, write newspapers, encourage people to exercise the right to self-nomination which was allowed by the party and the state. But since I’m also a citizen, why don’t I directly exercise that right first, but just write a newspaper to encourage others?
Then I would like to directly exercise that right first, and then write a newspaper encouraging people to exercise that right later.
I am currently a journalist. As a journalist, I am working to contribute to the development of the country.
And now I would like to stand for the Hanoi election and exercise my citizenship. If I am elected to the People’s Council of Hanoi, I will have another status, as a delegate to the City People’s Council, to continue to contribute more effectively to the country, to the development of the city, society.
I would like to say more, that if I am elected, I will have a powerful weapon to fight social injustices, to be able to effectively defend the right people who are being unjustly wronged,,,, .
But I think that’s enough. Talking too much doesn’t help.
As a result of the secret ballot in my office, I got nearly 100% of the votes. I know there are many people in my office who don’t like me, but in the election, they still support me. I was very touched by those chivalrous, beautiful gestures.
I felt a new responsibility begin to fall on my shoulders.
This is not a joke. This is a serious job.
That was the end of the first election.
The very next evening is the second election, that is, the neighborhood group where I reside will elect me.
About 40 people were invited to vote for me. Representatives of the Election Council of Hanoi city were very pleased to see that many people attended this election meeting. In many places, people are very indifferent to the election, so it is difficult to gather the people to come in large numbers in a vote to choose this candidate.
Most of the people where I live know me, and all like me. I have good relations with all the neighbors.
Many people stood up to express their opinions about me. All have good opinions about me. Then vote by show of hands. I got 100% of the attendees raised their hands in support of my self-nomination.
Then there was a closed meeting of the Election Council of Hanoi.
Whether the Electoral Commission will agree to let my name be included in the official list of candidates for the upcoming official election, that is the right of the Electoral Council, I do not know.
Although I have passed the first two rounds of elections in my office and in the residential group, in this third round of consultations, if the Electoral Council excludes me from the official list of candidates, I also had to accept.
I was surprised because in this third round of consultation, I was supported by the Hanoi Election Council, agreeing to include my name in the official list of candidates. I later learned that there were many considerations for the Hanoi Election Commission to choose me.
After that, I was arranged to meet with young voters, organized by the Hanoi Youth Union. I stood up to make a brief statement, because I knew it was heavily formal.
But there are many foreign journalists when they see my name on the official list of candidates, they are very interested.
After all, this is the first “independent candidate” of Hanoi, and also one of the first few self-candidates of socialist Vietnam.
Many foreign journalists have come to interview me, including the Japanese newspaper Asahi Simbun. Journalist Mizuno, head of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper division, interviewed, photographed and published a long article about me on the front page of Asahi Shimbun, Japanese, then gave me that issue, which I still keep to this day as a souvenir.
Then there is the official election. I’m at the ballot box in Hai Ba Trung district.
The election results of all 11 other ballot boxes in Hanoi in 1994 were in accordance with the expectations of the Electoral Council, except for my ballot box.
My ballot box has 4 candidates, vote 2.
The chief inspector of Hanoi city was elected, I did not, but the number of my votes was more than 49%. A company director also got approximately 49% as of my votes, and the chairman of the association Journalists in Hanoi received a very low number of votes.
So in my ballot box, there was only one winner, Mr. Chief Inspector of Hanoi city, and 3 people failed, included me.
According to the election law, my ballot box must be re-elected, in order to have one more elected candidate, to ensure that Hanoi has the required number of People’s Council deputies, which is 85 members.
The re-election was held, the ballot box again bore the number 13, and the result was that I was elected with more than 80% of the votes.
It turned out that the number 13 was not my unlucky number, but my lucky number.
After being elected to the Hanoi People’s Council in 1994, I started working as a journalist and a member of the Council.
As a journalist, I have a Journalist Card issued by the Ministry of Culture and Information, with a red slash that looks very impressive, seems very powerful.
As a delegate to the Hanoi People’s Council, I have a red People’s Council Delegate Card, which also seems very powerful.
During the first meeting of the Hanoi People’s Council, the important task was to elect a new chairman of Hanoi city.
Doctor of Science Hoang Van Nghien introduced by the Việt Nam central communist party. Mr. Dinh Hanh, vice president of Hanoi, stood up and applied for self-nomination for the presidency.
Thus, there are 2 candidates for the Hanoi presidency.
Mr. Hoang Van Nghien is an intellectual, an entrepreneur who was the first in Vietnam to be elected president of Hanoi city, the Việt Nam capital city.
Mr. Hoang Van Nghien was formerly a doctor of science, studied in a socialist country in Eastern Europe, fluently in English, then worked as a teacher at Hanoi Polytechnic University, and then as Director of Hanel electronics company, a company in Vietnam to produce TV set. TV production was quite successful at first, but now it seems to have stopped.
Mr. Hoang Van Nghien was very calm, and very supportive of the “not round-one candidate” voting option as this long-standing tradition has been.
As a result, Mr. Nghien was elected. Mr. Dinh Hanh was not elected.
Mr. Dinh Hanh was later involved in the Thang Long Aquarium project, so he was dismissed from all posts, only being an ordinary party member.
This “non-round-no single candidate” voting method is a bold innovation of Hanoi, of Mr. Hoang Van Nghien, unfortunately it is very, very, rare in Vietnam.
In subsequent meetings of the Hanoi People’s Council, I questioned the chairman of Hanoi, Hoang Van Nghien, and the leaders of Hanoi, about the demolition of the dike of Hong river, to build houses.
I’m talking about the history of thousands of years of the Vietnamese people, only seeing feudal dynasties trying their best to repair dikes and prevent natural disasters from Hong river, but only today, the Hanoi government lets the Red River dike break down to get land for building a house, build a hotel, earn money.
Among the delegates to the Hanoi People’s Council, I have great respect for Mrs. Nghiem Chuong Chau, Head of the Council’s socio-cultural department.
Ms. Nghiem Chuong Chau was formerly Vice Chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, then Deputy Minister of Education, then retired.
She was recommended to be a candidate for the Hanoi People’s Council after she retired, to be a full-time delegate.
In Vietnam, most of the representatives of elected bodies, or parliamentarians, are part-timers, like me, being both a journalist and a delegate. Only some titles such as heads of committees of councils, experts and heads of committees of the National Assembly are full-time delegates.
Ms. Nghiem Chuong Chau is a delegate who dares to speak the truth, dares to question difficult issues that other delegates are afraid of and do not dare to question.
The biggest impression during my 5 years as a delegate to the Hanoi People’s Council is that at every council meeting (twice a year), a large number of Hanoians gather right in front of the headquarters gate of the Hanoi People’s Committee, where the meeting is held, to file a complaint and denunciation. Occasionally they held up banners that read in large letters “Down with the corrupt“.
Many people often come to Dai Doan Ket newspaper to submit applications, so they know my face. When I entered the Council board room, I greeted them and felt ashamed, because there was nothing I could do to help them. As a journalist, I can sometimes help them better than as a delegate.
I was disappointed to realize that.
During my 5 years as a delegate to the People’s Council of Hanoi, 1994-1999, I looked at myself and found that I had done almost nothing as delegate of Hanoi People Coucil.
Several times a year, I and the members of Cultural Department of the Council go to check places, check prisons, check education, culture,,, but it’s just a very administrative way of doing things, then go visit-go play in localities such as Saigon, Lai Chau, Tuyen Quang,,,.
My most successful work in my five years as a delegate was when I questioned the Thang Long Aquarium project, a shady land-granting project in Hanoi, involving Deputy Prime Minister Ngo Xuan Loc, and with some other leaders of Hanoi city.
After questioning, I did my own investigation, and wrote an investigative report on the case of the Thang Long Aquarium Palace project for my Dai Doan Ket newspaper. As a result, the project was canceled and Deputy Prime Minister Ngo Xuan Loc was dismissed.
I was awarded the second prize of the Vietnam Journalists Association for this investigative reportage. The Journalists Association did not dare to give me the first prize, for fear of humiliating the government and the city of Hanoi.
Second, I have successfully defended the case of taking land for Tran Khat Chan Street in Hanoi. The people who were displaced to use land for road construction, for several years were not given compensation for land to build a house in another place for several years. I brought the case to the People’s Committee of Hanoi to question, and wrote articles on my newspaper about this case, in the end these people were granted compensation land, and built a new house.
They came to Dai Doan Ket newspaper to thank me with packages of fruits, such as apples, oranges, and tangerines.
Then, in 1997, the Party and State again allowed free candidates to be self-nominated and elected to the National Assembly, I also applied for National Assmbly election, passed 2 rounds of elections in agencies and residential groups.
But in the third round of consultation at the Hanoi Election Council, my name was suddenly dropped from the list of candidates, so voters could not vote for me.
I will clarify this in the next post.///