On 6 March 2013, I decided to quit my full-time job. The employer was surprised. My ailing mother got confused.
Nobody was aware that three days earlier, I’d written a letter which reinforced my desire to have an earnest and private conversation a friend. I knew I needed to get away from the life of “existing for an income” and start learning about my one and only Vietnam.
So my friend, i.e. Vietnam, was both abstract and real. Feeling that I’d never understood my birth place and that it hadn’t taken the time to listen to me—not even when Vietnam’s constitutional reform was taking place—I was devastated.
Since the letter was drafted, I haven’t got the courage to send it. Still, I hope the intended recipient will stumble upon the following letter and offer to—once again—be my one and only Vietnam.
Không vì tôi đau khổ rã rời,
Mà Người ghét bỏ?
Xin Người đừng nhìn tôi như kẻ lạ.
Xin Người đừng ghẻ lạnh, Việt Nam ơi.
Người có triệu chúng tôi, tôi chỉ có một Người.
Just because I’m wretched and my mode of being ruptured,
Would You abandon me?
Please don’t look at me like a stranger.
Please don’t make me feel estranged, dear Vietnam.
You have millions of us, but I have only You.
(Excerpt from Việt Nam Ơi, a poem written by Luu Quang Vu in the 1970s. The English translation is mine.)
We’re in a circle where You don’t need me and I don’t need You, and where we have the illusion that we do. It’s probably because, as poet Luu Quang Vu said, “You have millions of us, but I have only You.”
When I was born, You immediately gave me Market Socialism, a complicated gift for which I’ve never felt prepared.
Recently You asked nearly 90 million people who bear your name, i.e. Vietnamese, to join a constitutional revision.
You’re asking me to provide feedback on the 1992 Constitution Revision Draft, right? It’s a revised version of the 1992 Constitution, right?
Don’t You know that my generation, born in the 1990s, is politics-illiterate?
Still, I tried what I could, navigating the jungle of documents relevant to the contemporary constitutional discourse.
Before I give You my feedback, tell me, Vietnam, if You know that many of your fellows have said bad things about You?
Because You’re busy, as always, I’ll give You a summary of the criticisms about your 1992 Constitution Revision Draft.
- Vietnamese Communist Party and constitutional right: The National Assembly’s 1992 Constitution Revision Draft gives the Party a monopoly of leading all aspects of the State and society. It also deprives Vietnamese people of the constitutional right when saying that the National Assembly has the highest authority over passing a constitution.
- Human rights: The Draft doesn’t take human rights seriously because in many provisions, there is always an added tag of limiting human rights for the sake of “national development.”
- Land rights: The Draft allows private land use, not private land ownership, and poses the danger of arbitrary confiscation when stating that lands can be taken by the State for “developmental projects.”
- Organization of the State: The Draft shows no clear separation of the three branches of power. Among them, the judicial branch is the weakest and least independent.
- Military: The Draft is unreasonably clear about the military’s loyalty first of all towards the Vietnamese Communist Party, not the people.
- Referendum: According to the Draft, the Vietnamese people won’t have the power to say “no” to the National Assembly’s final decision. The Draft needs the public’s comments and feedback, not their approval.
- Time: Amending a country’s constitution is a highly important endeavor, and yet the National Assembly set a time frame of only three months (including one week spanning the Tet holiday) for the public to comment on its Draft.
These criticisms actually come from 72 Vietnamese intellectuals, including former Justice Minister Nguyen Dinh Loc. On 19 January 2013, they published a proposal with the aforementioned criticisms plus their own draft constitution.
Why is your 1992 Constitution Revision Draft being criticized so harshly, dear Vietnam? Is there anyone mistreating You? Don’t be afraid. Just tell me. Is it the Vietnamese Communist Party?
Article 4 of the 1992 Constitution Revision Draft reiterates the Vietnamese Communist Party’s role of leading the entire Vietnamese State and society.
Vietnam, You’re kind and You may not mind a monopoly of leadership. But let’s think about it.
How many members does the Part have? Some 3.6 million. They are leading a Vietnamese population of nearly 90 million. The Party’s population is modest compared to that of Vietnam, but its power isn’t as modest. When I was in high school, I kept asking myself why our vice principal couldn’t be promoted to principal, despite his talent and long service. He just wasn’t a member of the Party, while others who got a promotion were.
After all the Party is not elected by the people. I used to ask myself why people would need two or more political parties, and why competition within the Party wouldn’t count. I realized, though, two members of a political party arguing against each other wouldn’t make an authentic debate, because virtually they were both controlled by one predetermined ideology. And I realized, further, in case two members of a party had an authentic debate, it would show their difference in ideology and thus present a need for them to diverge into two separate parties.
Dearest Vietnam, when You’re less afraid, do let me know. Then, we can talk in a serious and friendly manner, about holding a referendum on your 1992 Constitution Revision Draft.
You need your fellows’ feedback, but You refused to give us a chance to have a final say. Why is “referendum” that scary to You?
There seems to be no escape from Market Socialism, a system I never signed a contract to live in. I’m aware that it’s hard, even impossible, to return to the state of nature—a hypothetical condition of no governments.
Still, can the Vietnamese make the social contract more open? Do we have to forever maintain a contract which we don’t like and which we never signed?
Let’s have a referendum and create a more open social contract. You and your fellows, me included, have the capacity to write a democratic constitution, don’t we? I hope you’ll consider it. I’d like to think that you care about me.
Then we’ll again eat rice together. We can have a consensus on the good life, Việt Nam nhé.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Loving friend of yours.
Sunday, 3 March 2013.