Vietnam’s political bloggers are increasingly challenging the country’s one-party rule, according to Vietnamese specialist Jonathan London who is a professor of comparative political economy and Core Member of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong.
Vietnam’s rapid industrialization has greatly increased the number of people with internet access, from one in 33 a decade ago to more than one in three today, says London, and the impact of the internet on the political culture has been sudden. Until recently the only people with unfiltered access to information, news, and views were those with state power.
London says political blogging in Vietnam is now well established, in spite of state efforts to root it out.
There are various forms of bloggers too – some aspire to be independent journalists, others focus on scandal and gossip, while others promote political reform and the plight of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam’s jails. In addition, there are thousands of microbloggers on social media sites.
Several bloggers have received lengthy prison terms under the nation’s harsh laws intended to silence dissent and create fear in the population.
Today’s Vietnam is a country thirsting for modernization but ruled by a dysfunctional political system which remains adamantly opposed to change.
Those calling for reforms are routinely condemned as “enemies” and “hostile forces” by regime conservatives, but reformers are determined to see their country develop more transparent, pluralistic and democratic institutions.
In the past, the bloggers often used fake online identities, but an increasingly number are openly voicing their views on the internet. And the calls for change are not just limited to the younger generation.
Earlier this year, a group of 72 current and retired state officials and analysts openly called for Vietnam to end its one-party rule. Petition 72 gained over 14,000 signatures, many from within the party-state.
Though rejected by the government, the petition was allowed to circulate freely on the internet and the online debate that surrounded it marked a historical change in the country’s political development, according to London.
Changes are happening from within the regime, with party politics showing signs of uncertainty not seen since the 1940s.
There is an open struggle that reflects a crisis of leadership in the party.