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Vietnam – Ongoing administrative reforms
October 28, 2017, 12:27 pm

Vietnam is expected to continue its program of administrative reforms in the near term, as it seeks to adapt to the expansion of the private sector and to introduce market forces into more areas of the economy. This is expected to have implications for the political superstructure, with local government being one area in which this is likely to become increasingly evident.

At the same time, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee and the Politburo, which form the key organs of power in Vietnam, continues to serve a powerful centralizing role and regulates the speed with which reforms and changes are implemented.

Nevertheless, as the country continues to prosper, with strong economic growth projected to continue in the coming years, Vietnam appears certain to continue to assert itself at a regional level. It will do this not only as a leading member of ASEAN, but also by leveraging its strategic geographic location and positive relations with the international community to forward its economic, political and geostrategic interests in the wider region.

Executive Power: There are three top positions in Vietnam’s executive heirarchy — the president, the prime minister and the general secretary of the CPV. The president is the head of state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the prime minister is head of government and the general-secretary is the chief of the CPV. Currently, these three positions are held by Tran Dai Quang, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Nguyen Phu Trong respectively.

The president is also commander-in-chief of the Vietnamese People’s Armed Forces (VPAF) and chair of the Council for Defense and Security. The president is nominated by the CPV Central Committee and elected by the legislature, the National Assembly. The prime minister is also nominated to the National Assembly by the CPV Central Committee and is the primary head of the government, which comprises deputy prime ministers, ministers and other members of the party. It is the highest administrative organ of the state and is elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term.

The CPV has the leading role in government and in the power structure, with the general secretary being the party’s highest office.

Legislature: The National Assembly is the Socialist Republic’s top legislative organ and the most recent election was in May 2016. Candidates for the assembly are approved first by the Vietnamese Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella group of mass organizations, led by the CPV and including a range of social, religious and ethnic organizations. The highest body in the VFF is its central committee. The mass organizations themselves have an important role in the country’s politics. They include the Women’s Union, the Farmers’ Association, the General Federation of Trade Unions and the Youth Union.

While in the past the National Assembly acted largely to approve government policies, which are introduced to it by government ministers in the form of bills, in recent times it has become a forum for more lively political debate.

In 2001 a constitutional amendment also gave the assembly the authority to decide budget allocations and to move votes of no confidence in office holders. The chair of the National Assembly also recently passed to a woman for the first time, with the election of Politburo member Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan in March 2016. She is the leader of the assembly’s Standing Committee, which also consists of several deputy chairs and other assembly members who are prohibited from also being members of the government.

Judiciary: The highest body in the Vietnamese legal system is the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). This is led by the Chief Justice, who is elected by the National Assembly. The hierarchy below the SPC runs first to the superior people’s courts, based in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, then to the provincial-level people’s courts, and finally to the district-level people’s courts. There are several specialized courts at the supreme and provincial levels, such as the Criminal Court, Civil Court, Economic Court and Labor Court.

People’s Jurors for the courts are nominated by the VFF Central Committee, which are then appointed by the National Assembly Standing Committee. Courts of the first instance usually consist of two of these jurors and one judge. Judges and procurators are all members of the CPV. Within the VPAF, the Central Military Tribunal, subordinate only to the SPC, is the highest judicial body.

Prosecutorial authority resides with the People’s Office of Inspection and Supervision, with each court, both civilian and military, having its own people’s prosecutor. Additionally, the Supreme People’s Procuracy is the highest authority within this branch of the nation’s justice system.

The basic legal code is built on a principle of ‘socialist legality’, a body of law built by combining elements of Marxist-Leninist ideology and French civil law. One significant aspect of socialist legality is its view of private property and the activities of the private sector. The code’s Soviet origins give it a more comprehensive view of law within a command economy, a configuration in which cooperatives and state ownership were the norm. In recent years many changes have been made to the legal code, with the National Assembly facing a major workload in passing new laws and amendments to the law during its two, 30-day annual sessions.

Local Leadership: Currently, around 55 percent of overall state expenditure and 75 percent of capital expenditure is made at the subnational level, demonstrating the degree of de-centralization that already exists in the country. At present, Vietnam is divided into 63 provinces and cities, including two ‘special cities’ (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) and three so called rank-one cities (Hai Phong, Da Nang and Can Tho). Local government in provinces and cities is governed by the 2003 Law on Organization of People’s Councils and People’s Committees.

Underneath the province or municipality levels are rural and urban districts, which then further subdivide into commune-level towns, communes and finally wards. However, there is a fair amount of experimentation being applied to this structure. In recent years the local government structure has been undergoing reforms, with pilot projects ongoing in some areas that are aiming to find more efficient forms of organization.

The results of a ‘National Program on Public Administration Reform’, which took place between 2011 and 2015, is currently being examined. A new ‘Law on Local Government’ was also passed in 2015. The overall objective is to move away from the highly centralized forms of administration that existed under the previous, command economy, towards more decentralized, market-oriented structures. In 2009 the first Public Administration Performance Index was introduced, to give local authorities a way to measure popular perspectives on their performance, a move that is likely to herald changes in the years ahead.


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