Two years ago, when he held the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged Myanmar to hold democratic elections with the participation of all political parties. In light of Myanmar’s recent political opening, the question arises whether the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) is willing to take similar steps toward democratic reform in Vietnam.
To begin, the differences between Vietnam’s situation and that of Myanmar bear noting. Prior to its recent political changes, Myanmar was isolated and regarded as a pariah state. By contrast, Vietnam has made major reforms since its introduction of “doi moi” (“renovation”) reforms in 1986, which resulted in significant economic advances and integration into the global economy. At the economic level, while Vietnamese state-owned enterprises are strongly favored, the private sector is allowed and encouraged. At the political level, the VCP has also made efforts to create a law-governed state while loosening some domestic political controls, such as allowing party and nonparty members to voice their concerns about -- and even, to some extent, criticize -- its policies.
Yet, the political changes are neither consistent nor fast enough for the growing number of domestic critics and dissidents (.pdf), who call for greater respect for civil and political freedoms and political pluralism. For these critics, the very nature of the one-party system leads to corruption and abuse of power.