Vietnam communists tighten grip after victory in strictly vetted vote

A woman casts her ballot at a local voting station in Hanoi on May 22, 2016.
A woman casts her ballot at a local voting station in Hanoi on May 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam's Communist Party entrenched its power monopoly on Thursday (June 9) after results of last month's parliamentary election showed its members winning 96 per cent of seats, and trouncing most of the independent candidates it had approved to run.

Results showed 67 million people, or 99.35 per cent of eligible voters, cast ballots in the May 22 election, which saw only 21 non-party members elected to the 500-seat chamber, down from the 42 in the last term.

Though parliament has long been regarded as a dull affair in a country that has only one political party, the election run-up attracted a buzz of interest due to attempts by more than 100 ordinary people to run as independent, or self-nominated candidates.

All but 11 of them failed to get on the ballot due to the party's strict vetting process, among them dissidents, businessmen and celebrities, some of whom were testing the sincerity of the party's promises of greater inclusiveness.

Only two self-nominated candidates won seats and the other 19 non-party members elected had been nominated by state institutions. Four seats were unfilled because of insufficient turnout in four provinces, officials said, without elaborating.

Deputy assembly chairman Phung Quoc Hien said the high national turnout showed the ballot was a success, even with some instances of fraud and calls on social media for a voter boycott. "Our people, our voters have shown a spirit of performing their right and their duty," Hien told reporters.

Parliament has traditionally served as a rubber stamp for the party's policies, but some experts and diplomats say debate has become more lively, with ministers grilled in televised sessions, laws sent back for re-drafts, and liberal legislation passed, including recognition of transgenders and the decriminalisation of same-sex unions.

The party's top brass were spared embarrassments in what is the only national election the public gets to vote in, with the leadership triumvirate retaining their seats in the house, which starts its five-year term next month.

President Tran Dai Quang won 75 per cent support in his constituency and party chief Nguyen Phu Trong won 86 per cent. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc won 99 per cent of the votes in his contest.