69 million Vietnamese head to polls amid coronavirus spread

The Vietnamese government expects eligible people to cast votes in National Assembly and local People's Council elections. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI (BLOOMBERG) - About 69 million Vietnamese are casting votes on Sunday (May 23) for national and local candidates during the nation's twice-a-decade election as the government battles a new virus outbreak.

With the nation slow to vaccinate its population, officials put in place strict social-distancing measures at poll stations across the country to reduce health risks. The government expects eligible people to cast votes in National Assembly and local People's Council elections.

The outcome of the National Assembly election, which will be announced in 20 days, won't change key government policies. The direction for everything from economics to foreign affairs has already been set by high-level party members. Sunday's voting follows last month's election of new top leaders, including prime minister and president, by the National Assembly.

The election "puts an official stamp on everything that has already been negotiated and concluded within the party," said Dr Alexander Vuving, a Southeast Asia expert at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii.

"There won't be any big changes."

More than one million people in Vietnam have received a vaccine dose, with just 28,961 receiving two shots as of 4 pm Saturday, according to the health minister's publication Suc Khoe Doi Song.

Vietnam is battling a domestic surge in Covid-19, with 2,066 new local virus cases since April 27, including 31 in the last 12 hours, the health ministry said. The outbreak is centred in the northern provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh. Bac Giang officials have temporarily closed industrial parks where suppliers for Apple and Samsung Electronics are located.

At the polling stations, voters are required to wear masks, fill out health declaration forms and practice social distancing. Authorities limited the number of people allowed at the facilities at a single time to prevent large gatherings. Military officials are on alert to ensure social and political order is maintained during the election, the government has said.

Eight hundred and sixty-six candidates pre-screened by the Fatherland Front, a party-led organisation, are vying for 500 parliament seats. Most candidates are nominated by party organisations or government agencies, such as the military.

While 76 people nominated themselves to stand for parliament, only nine made it through the screening process.

The list of independents, the lowest since 1997, includes the nation's first gay candidate Luong The Huy, head of a Hanoi non-government organisation. Eleven independent candidates ran in 2016, two of whom were elected.

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