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Perspective

Conference on Prospects and Prosperity for Vietnam
November 16 - 18, 2000

Loyal Opposition Within VCP

By Professor Zachary Abuzza
Simmons College
Concluding Presentation

In writing about the Club of Former Resistance Fighters, Nayan Chanda stated that "What the Vietnamese leaders fear is not a Chinese-style, student-led movement for democracy or a Polish-style, anti-party Solidarity trade union, but a challenge from party veterans angered and humiliated by the disastrous state of the country's economy." There are few agents of change in Vietnam. The development of civil society has been slow and the VCP expends a vast amount of resources to prevent civil society from emerging. This is important because without broader linkages to the general populace, the dissidents pose a much smaller threat to the regime. As soon as they can mobilize a critical mass of people in society, then the party has real reason for concern. A group like the Club of Former Resistance Fighters, with a regional following of closely bound veterans who share similar concerns, with charismatic leadership who can mobilize their following, is troubling to the party leadership. Though beyond the scope of this paper, religious organizations, too, with their nation-wide network of churches and adherents, a hierarchical authority structure, charismatic and morally upright leadership who are able to disseminate information and mobilize their congregation, are of great concern to the regime. Civil society is growing parallel to the country's economic development. Professional organizations and associations are being formed, autonomous of the party. But their development is limited for three reasons: first, the party fears their development and tries to curtail their autonomy, making them responsible to organs of the party and state. Second, there is no legal framework in which they can operate. Third, although legal, the government has hampered the development of the private sector, the major advocates for civil society and legalization. Until civil society is more thoroughly developed, dissidents will remain the primary articulators of political and legal reform.

The dissident movement in Vietnam is nascent and still small. Yet its power is in its membership. As lifelong members of the communist party, veterans, with impeccable revolutionary credentials, as well as the finest intellectual minds in the country, they speak with moral authority and reason. Although they are by no means a uniform group, they share several moderate goals. Most want to work within the current legal-constitutional structure by empowering the National Assembly to govern in a legalistic society, in which a free press provides information and serves as a public watchdog. Few advocate a truly pluralist system. They want to strengthen this system not undermine it. But their frustration over the party's monopoly of power, control of the National Assembly, corruption, refusal to liberalize and reform the economy, the lack of intellectual freedom and freedom of the press, have led them to challenge the party's methods and goals. They wish to serve as a loyal opposition in order to contribute to the development of the nation. But to an insecure regime which has rested on its laurels and employed coercion to maintain its monopoly of power, these dissidents are a threat to not only the regime, but to the nation.

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