Phạm Lê Vương Các - Civil Society and the Constitution

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Vietnamese Original Text: Phạm Lê Vương Các
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Civil Society and the Constitution

Phạm Lê Vương Các

Sent to BBCVietnamese from Ho Chi Minh City

http://www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/forum/2013/03/130305_chinhquyen_hienphap.shtml

The period of collecting public input to the revision of the 1992 Constitution is reaching its final phase amidst unexpected and vibrant developments.

First, the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party condemned the “deterioration in political thinking, ethics, and lifestyle” lurking behind the demands for removal of Article 4 in the Constitution, allowance of pluralism, multi-party system, separation of powers, and depoliticization of the armed forces.

Then a day later, the chairman of the National Assembly offered similar views and denounced attempts to take advantage of the public opinion collection process to work against the Party and the government. At the same time he also criticized the self-started process of collecting opinions as “non-conforming to procedures”.

These two acts were followed by military experts’ incessant attacks on the proposal to “depoliticize the armed forces”.

To thousands who signed the “Petition 72” initiated by the most elite and courageous of the people at present, these acts were a slap in the face.

It is now clear that public comments to the revision of the 1992 Constitution were not received with respect or appreciation, nor were they treated in a democratic manner by those who called for them.

However, through this process of revising the Constitution came positive signals for a political shift toward a more democratic future, in the form of civil society.

Strengths from the movements

First of all, it can be observed that movements of civil society were formed and have the potential to create pressure on the government.

It is seen through individuals who, unaffiliated with any political parties or organizations, interacted with each other to form movements with a unified voice.

“The movements seem to have broken away from fear and from the government’s grip on them”

Most noteworthy recently are the Call for Exercising Human Rights, and Petition 72 that gathered a force remarkable both in quantity and quality, whose voice resonated with democratic ideals that inspire the people.

Or the petition by the students and former students of Law which, though lacking sizeable participation of experts, clearly demonstrated that when an individual is aware of his role in society, he can on his own start a movement, using his own ability and talent.

At this point in time, the movements seem to have overcome the fear and the grip of the government.

Take the No-U movements in Hà nội and Sài gòn, for example, that organized numerous recent demonstrations against Chinese aggression, defying the government’s determination to thwart them. Or the gathering in front of police posts to demand the release of people arrested without cause, something an opposing political party or organization would not be seen doing for a long time to come.

Or the “Declarations of the Free Citizens”, started on the afternoon of February 28 mainly by young bloggers in Vietnam. Disputing sacred clauses that the government is trying to protect, it has gathered over three thousand signatures within 72 hours.

With its opening phrase of “standing alongside journalist Nguyễn Đắc Kiên”, the signers of the declaration seemed to affirm that, “no one is alone in the fight for freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

“We not only want to remove Article 4…We support pluralism and a multi-party system…We support setting up a political system based on separation of power…We support depolicizing the armed forces…” were declared as soon as statements from Vietnamese leaders demanding that these views “be dealt with properly” were heard.

This reaction clearly shows that, in Vietnam, the signers of the declaration were showing their engagement (in the fight for freedom), defying threats from the government, and standing ready to take possible consequences from retaliation, should there be any.

The Government’s Challenges

These are challenges any government would be very concerned with.

Putting down opposing political parties and organizations.is something the current governing party can do. However, it cannot put out civil society movements, which, like breaths of life, come out naturally from urgent needs of each individual citizen.

Reality has demonstrated this situation as a fact of life. In 2006, political parties and organizations “sprang up like mushrooms after the rain” in Vietnam, ushering in democratic movements. Sadly, however, they were put down just as fast by the government, and have been in a clinical coma since, with no achievements significant enough to leave an impact on the current Vietnamese political scene.



Students are beginning to play a role in civil society

Meanwhile, without any platforms, policies, or strategies to carry out their goals, the movements of signing petitions, declarations, and appeals have gathered tens of thousands of respondents. They have created positive effects through expanding and reaching out to the people in a significant way, challenging the government’s ability to respond to them.

The government’s desire to ”strike” these movements finds no definite target, because they are not specific beings, have no headquarters, no leaders, no definite structures, and can very flexibly morph and transform themselves into something else easily.

With their most effective advantage being the ability to preserve strength and spreading fast, aided by “the people’s press”, these movements enable each very ordinary individual to create breakthroughs under favorite circumstances, a most notable example being the case of Nguyễn Đắc Kiên.

What Should the Government Do?

It can be observed through such movements that civil society will be the modus operandi in the struggle for democracy, today and in the future.

Any “tough” measures by the government to put down social movements will be futile, because social movements represent the current rightful needs and wishes of the people.

Civil society is like a balloon: if kicked in one place, it will roll over to another place; if pressed in one spot, it will inflate in a different spot, and if pricked, it will explode, spreading its effects far and wide.

Recent developments in North Africa show clearly that it would be unwise of any government to oppose these movements. Governments, however, should not fear civil society. It does not operate to compete for power or to overthrow governments. It only demands that governments carry out reform, keep policies transparent, and institute democracy to accommodate life’s current needs.

“Today’s government needs to remain calm and courageous. It needs to accept changes and re-engineer itself in order to survive and progress.”

However, if a government does not listen and respond to the demands of the people’s movements, and instead chooses oppose them, then the movements can “topple” any institution and open up opportunities for other political parties to come to power.

A wise government, therefore, is one who harmonizes with social movements, knows how to accommodate their demands, and from there regulates and guides these social movements in order to preserve stability and also its own survival.

In Vietnam at present, it would be to the government’s best interest to respect and have a “dialogue” with these movements while things are still under control.

The government is required to be calm and also to be courageous. It should accept change and transform itself in order to survive and progress.

Attempting to maintain and protect “ideology”, as being done at present, not only will lead the government to unnecessary mistakes, but will also open up dark pits that will swallow up its remaining energy and strength.

The article reflects the view and style of the author, who currently is a student of law in his third year in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Tâm Như gửi hôm Thứ Năm, 07/03/2013
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