~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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Uncertain future hovers over Vietnam party

HANOI - Four months after launching a big campaign to weed out corrupt and degraded cadres, the ruling Vietnam Communist Party has gone rather quiet. There have been few details of its heralded criticism/self criticism campaign in the state-controlled press, and there are no signs in the streets to suggest anything out of the ordinary.

But all 2.3 million party members in this impoverished country of 79 million people are undergoing criticism in a bid to strengthen the party. Analysts said the party was facing its greatest challenge since the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and Hanoi's other Eastern Bloc supporters in the early 1990s.
By keeping a lid on organised opposition Hanoi has maintained political stability, but critics say this has meant a retreat to hardline rule, with the party tolerating little dissent and constantly on the lookout for perceived threats. The party says it is the choice of the ``entire Vietnamese people'' and dissent could cause social chaos and undermine sacrifices made to end foreign interference in the country.

WHITEWASH

In the arcane world of Vietnamese politics the party wields absolute power and is accountable only to itself, leaving some party members cynical about the criticism campaign.
``The results so far are zero point zero zero percent (of party members are corrupt),'' said one veteran party member. ``They are all clean.''
The party acknowledges graft is a problem, but analysts say the criticism campaign could be divisive and most corrupt cadres were likely to escape censure.

``(Criticism) is an old Leninist technique which scared the hell out of everyone involved in the 1950s, but gradually became ritualised, and now would be mocked by many party members,'' said David Marr, a professor at the Pacific and Asian History Department at the Australian National University. Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, expected several thousand party members would be dismissed but said attempts to punish all corrupt cadres were unlikely as the party believed in rectification as an article of faith.
``Errant cadres can be brought to confess their misdeeds, repent and return to party service even more dedicated to the party and its ideals,'' he said.

DAS KAPITAL OR DAS CASH

At street-level there is little interest in politics, and even less knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. The party has cloaked itself in safety ever since it forced its way into power across then North Vietnam in 1954, and the south of the country after 1975.

Schoolchildren learn about revolutionary achievements, victories over foreign invaders and acts of heroism. Party sources say accounts of some national heroes -- some are still taught today -- were fabricated to serve party propaganda.
But a senior diplomat in Hanoi said selective truth and secrecy served a purpose. ``Who wants accountability, that's what follows transparency. Power rests in following the line, swallowing it and not questioning it,'' he said. The party member said internecine struggles, slur campaigns and clashes of vested interests had caused trust within the elite to ebb.

Leaden Marxist and revolutionary rhetoric has become irrelevant as around 60 percent of the population are too young to remember the Vietnam War. Analysts say people, including many party members, are now more interested in cash than politics.
``The Vietnam Communist Party is a dinosaur living in an age where it should be extinct. The criticism campaign...(is designed for) the prolongation of one-party rule,'' said Thayer.

STRUGGLES FOR CONSENSUS

Analysts said the party might be pinning too many hopes on the criticism campaign as a cure-all. With the advent of email and the Internet, dissenting voices -- from both inside and outside the party -- are making themselves heard.
A group of retired military and party veterans have rallied behind elderly General Tran Do to urge the party to examine itself and be prepared to democratise and drop socialism if that was what was needed to ensure economic growth.

A political officer at a foreign embassy in Hanoi said a slowing economy coupled with ideological struggles over the introduction of a market economy, as well as conflicting vested interests, threatened the party's ability to rule.

``Right now they have no strong leaders and there is a paralysis for some key decision making, especially when it comes to personnel and urgent economic reforms,'' he said.
``They have to lighten up, take a step back and develop good governance through nurturing open dialogue with all sections of society. Only then can they have legitimacy.''

Reuters - September 5, 1999.