HANOI • Vietnam held its five- yearly day of democracy yesterday with an election for a Parliament tightly controlled by a ruling Communist Party that is seeing unprecedented challenges to its four-decade political monopoly.
Some 69 million Vietnamese were registered to vote to choose representatives for the 500-seat National Assembly, with the ballot comprised overwhelmingly of candidates representing the secretive party or nominated by state institutions. The election could turn out to be an anti-climax, after an astonishing swell of public interest in the scores of activists, celebrities and ordinary Vietnamese who tried to run as independent candidates, and it could test the sincerity of the party's promises of inclusiveness.
Almost all of the hopeful independents could not get on the ballot and were eliminated during the party's strict vetting processes, which many of them said were rigged to shut them out.
Among the failures was a well- known broadcaster who received unanimous support from a sample of constituents picked to judge him, as well as a teacher omitted because his dog defecated outside his neighbour's house.
The party has been on a publicity blitz to encourage people to vote. "This is our proud right. All Vietnamese people have the right and responsibility to vote and build the country," Mr Nguyen Hanh Phuc, general secretary of the largely rubber- stamp Parliament, said last Friday.
He insisted that all 870 candidates would be treated equally, including those who are not party members and had nominated themselves to run as independents. There are only 11 self-nominated candidates.
The attempt by more than 100 Vietnamese to take on the party in the election was among a series of stunts by activists and intellectuals to try to pressure the reclusive rulers to give the public a bigger say in politics.
The pro-democracy movement yesterday held its own parallel election, which aimed to show public support for political plurality in a Parliament where independent candidates won only four seats the last time.
A downloadable smartphone application, "La Phieu (vote)", has been created, allowing users to each cast one vote, pitting the independents who were eliminated against the real party candidates. REUTERS