Global Change, PeaceThe development of civil society and dynamics of governance in Vietnam's one party rule


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Global Change, PeaceThe development of civil society and dynamics of governance in Vietnam's one party rule
  This article was downloaded by: [UQ Library]On: 24 February 2013, At: 15:51Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Global Change, Peace & Security:formerly Pacifica Review: Peace,Security & Global Change Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: The development of civil society anddynamics of governance in Vietnam'sone party rule Thiem H. Bui aa  School of Political Science and International Studies, Universityof Queensland, AustraliaVersion of record first published: 22 Feb 2013. To cite this article:  Thiem H. Bui (2013): The development of civil society and dynamics of governance in Vietnam's one party rule, Global Change, Peace & Security: formerly Pacifica Review:Peace, Security & Global Change, 25:1, 77-93 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  The development of civil society and dynamics of governance in Vietnam ’ sone party rule Thiem H. Bui* School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australia Civil society has been in operation under one-party rule in Vietnam in the years since the DoiMoi (renewal) in 1986. Despite the continued monopoly of political power by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), civil society has been gradually expanded and developed. The paper reviews recent arguments in the political science and area studies literature on the emergence of civil society in Vietnam  ’ s Doi Moi period over the past two decades, to comment on thedynamics of the relationship between civil society and the party-state, problematizing thedevelopment of civil society in the context of a one-party-dominated state. At a certainlevel, civil society has been  ‘ tolerated ’ ,  ‘ endorsed ’ , or recognized by the party state to  󿬁 ll a gap in the governance network. In practice, it has never been an easy project for civilsociety to make its way into Vietnamese society given the party-state ’ s Gramscian concessionto maintain the existing hegemony. Keywords:  civil society; Communist Party of Vietnam; governance; party-state; Gramscianconcession As a theoretical concept, civil society has only recently transplanted into Vietnam  ’ s political dis-course. As a social force, under Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) rule, civil society emergedseveral times, albeit at a very limited level, during the years before Doi Moi or market-basedreforms launched in 1986. Since the late 1980s, the emergence of civil society in Vietnam hasbeen noted as a new phenomenon characterizing state – society relations in an authoritarian statedominated by the CPV. Although the CPV has been highly reserved on political reforms, economicreforms have been associated with many dramatic social and political changes. Among thosechanges that resulted from the relaxed control of the party-state over society is the restorationand development of civil society. The symbiosis of a traditional Leninist governance structureand a market economy has created space for elements of civil society to come back into being.Vietnam  ’ sauthoritarian state, which once attempted toannul civil society inits efforts todom-inate every aspect of society, has now accepted aspects of civil society. Civil society has been ‘ tolerated ’ ,  ‘ endorsed ’ , or recognized by the party-state and  󿬁 lls a gap, playing a role in the gov-ernance network and national development. In practice, while still viewing it with suspicion, theCPV has accepted the challenge to steer the market economy and civil society to pursue devel-opment goals. In that context, various forms of   ‘ civil society ’  exist and perform a role whichthe CPV  󿬁 nds useful for societal control alongside other types of organization, particularly themass organizations. 1 However, these forms of civil society have the potential to run beyond *Email: In a socialist system, mass organizations are Leninist institutions which  ‘ serve as mobilizational instruments of theauthorities by transmitting of  󿬁 cial policies and laws to society ’ . Jonathan R. Stromseth,  ‘ Business Associations andPolicy-Making in Vietnam  ’ , in  Getting Organised in Vietnam: Moving in and around the Socialist State , ed. Benedict  Global Change, Peace & Security , 2013Vol. 25, No. 1, 77 – 93, © 2013 Taylor & Francis    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U   Q    L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   1   5  :   5   1   2   4   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   3  the party-state ’ s control and governance capabilities. The paper discusses this challenge andargues that the Vietnamese party-state has employed both a co-optation strategy and a Gramscianconcession to maintain its existing hegemony over popular ideas, values, and norms in govern-ance. The utility of Gramscian notions of civil society in Vietnam can be played down or over-looked if not contextually grounded and recalibrated. The paper demonstrates how power isdiffuse and immanent in civil society and that this power can generate pressure for changeswithin Vietnam. It is noted that there are different ways of understanding civil society inVietnam, particularly the liberal democratic view, which will not be discounted in the paper,as each of the approaches provides a different insight and helps shed light on the researchproblem. Throughout the paper, empirical evidence of civil society interacting with the Vietna-mese party-state will be presented and discussed in three themes of governance: the environment,constitutional amendment, and protest politics. Conventional approaches to civil society and its development in Vietnam The Western liberal democratic perspective has dominated thinking on civil society since the1980s when neoliberalism began to carve profound imprints in the global political economy.Civil society is generally seen as  ‘ the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, (largely) self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules ’ . 2 Furthermore,  ‘ the strength of civil society is measured by the peaceful coex-istence of these units and by their collective capacity to simultaneously  resist subordination  to thestate and  demand inclusion  into national political structures ’ . 3 This mainstream approach has four important assumptions that need to be highlighted as they are relevant to the debates on civilsociety in Vietnam. First, it emphasizes the dichotomy between the state and civil society or the structural autonomy of civil society from the state. 4 It is accompanied by liberal ideasabout asserting civil liberties of individuals, universal right to political participation, checks onstate power, and the rule of law. Second, it characterizes state – civil society relations as comp-lementary, cooperative,and in partnership. This  consensual   approach is reinforced by the  ‘ discov-ery ’  of   social capital   generated by civil society in the 1990s. The American political scientist Robert Putnam arguably identi 󿬁 ed the link between social capital and democracy, contributingto the effectiveness and stability of democratic government. 5 He de 󿬁 nes social capital as  ‘ featuresof social life, networks, norms and trusts that enable participants to act together more effectivelyto pursue shared objectives ’ . 6 Third, civil society is associated with democratization and contrib-utes to democracy and economic development. 7 Fourth, market economy engenders civil societyand civil society is an inevitable and natural product of capitalist development. 8 All four assumptions mentioned point to the  normative ideal   of civil society that the West through its multilateral and bilateral donors 9 has placed in their development programmes with J. Tria Kerkvliet, Russell Hiang-Khng Heng and David Koh (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,2003), 63.2 Larry Diamond,  ‘ Rethinking Civil Society: Towards Democratic Consolidation ’ ,  Journal of Democracy  5, no. 3(1994): 228.3 Philip Oxhorn,  ‘ From Controlled Inclusion to Coerced Marginalization: The Struggle for Civil Society in LatinAmerica  ’ , in  Civil Society: Theory, History and Comparison , ed. John A. Hall (London: Polity Press, 1995), 251 – 2.4 Ingrid Landau,  ‘ Law and Civil Society in Cambodia and Vietnam: A Gramscian Perspective ’ ,  Journal of Contempor-ary Asia  38, no. 2 (2008): 244.5 Robert D. Putnam,  ‘ Bowing Alone: America  ’ s Declining Social Capital ’ ,  Journal of Democracy  6, no. 1 (1995): 65 – 78.6 Ibid., 169.7 Jude Howell and Jenny Pearce,  Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration  (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001), 39.8 Ibid., 72.9 They include,but are not limited to, the WorldBank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United NationsDevelopment Program (UNDP), the European Union (EU), the United States Agency for International Development  78  T.H. Bui    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U   Q    L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   1   5  :   5   1   2   4   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   3  civil society as  ‘ a key ingredient in promoting good governance ’ . 10 It is important to recognizehow this approach and its conceptualization of civil society have in 󿬂 uenced the way internationaldonors and most NGOs reliant on their funding have formulated and implemented development projects in developing countries including Vietnam. It has presented civil society, the state, andthe market as a triadic development model for developing countries. This way of thinking has not only been in 󿬂 uential among international donors and NGOs in Vietnam but has also in 󿬁 ltratedinto the academic circles even within the CPV. Tran Ngoc Hien, one of leading theorists of the CPV called for renewed and bold thinking by allowing civil society as the  ‘ third cornerstone ’ alongside the market economy and the law-based state to lay the full foundation for the politicaland economic system in Vietnam. 11 Particularly the fourth assumption  –  that civil society is a by-product of capitalistic development   –  is rei 󿬁 ed by the fact that the emergence of civil society inboth socialist countries, China and Vietnam, coincides with the ascendancy of a market economy.Conventional theories hold that civil society under authoritarianism is either heavily repressedor co-opted by the party-state. 12 Taking these accounts to extremes, many even maintain that civilsociety in a country like Vietnam has been annihilated and no longer exists. This line of argument  󿬁 ts well in the case of Vietnam before the late 1980s when the party-state adopted an exclusionarystrategy against civil society and state institutions entirely dominated almost every sphere of society. 13 Political, social, cultural, and historical factors have profound effects on the development of civil society in Vietnam. Villages in Vietnam  ’ s traditional society are arguably regarded as a primitive form of civil society actor as they enjoyed relative autonomy from the pre-colonialstate. 14 During French colonial rule, civil society actions were characterized by the non-violent protest movements of workers, farmers, intellectuals, writers, and journalists on different frontsto claim and assert their legitimate rights, and to  󿬁 ght for freedom and democracy. Theyreached a peak in the widespread movement for democracy in the period of 1936 – 39. Theseseeds were destroyed or taken over by the party-state after the CPV came to power andimposed an orthodox socialist vision of society where the state is the only legitimate representa-tive of the whole society ’ s interests.In the early years of communist rule in the North of Vietnam, actions from civil society brie 󿬂 yemerged between 1955 and 1956 in the  ‘  Nhan van-Giai pham ’  movement where prominent intel-lectuals, artists, and writers rose up to voice their claims for freedom and independence from theparty-state ’ s interference. The movement was quickly crushed by the party-state. 15 However,the legacy of   ‘  Nhan van-Giai pham ’  has become the  ‘ rallying points for today ’ s dissidents ’ , 16 as the issues raised by the movement are still topical in Vietnam  ’ s current political discourse. (USAID) and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom Government, and theAustralian Agency for International Development (AusAID).10 Howell and Pearce,  Civil Society and Development  , 4.11 Tr  ầ n Ng ọ c Hiên,  ‘ Kinh t  ế  th ị  tr  ư ờ  ng  đ ị nh h ư ớ  ng xã h ộ i ch ủ  ngh  ĩ  a v ớ  i nhà n ư ớ  c pháp quy ề n và xã h ộ i dân s ự  n ư ớ  c ta  ’ [Socialist-oriented market economy, the law-based state, and civil society in our country],  T  ạ  p chí C  ộ ng s ả n  [Com-munist review] 787 (May 2008): 50 – 5.12 Christopher Heurlin,  ‘ Governing Civil Society: The Political Logic of NGO – State Relations Under Dictatorship ’ , Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonpro  󿬁 t Organizations  21, no. 2 (2009): 222 – 4.13 L ữ  Ph ươ  ng,  ‘ Xã h ộ i công dân: T ừ  tri ệ t tiêu  đ ế n ph ụ c h ồ i ’  [Civil society: from annulment to restoration] (Unpublishedpaper,  Vietnam Update  Conference, Dept. Political and Social Change, RSAPS, ANU, Canberra, 1994); John Gille-spie,  ‘ Localizing Global Rules: Public Participation in Lawmaking in Vietnam  ’ ,  Law & Social Inquiry  33, no. 3(2008).14 Tran Trung Chinh,  ‘ To chuc xa hoi dan su  –  Mot di san cua Viet Nam  ’  [Civil society actors  –  a legacy of Vietnam], Viet-studies , February 9, 2012,  (accessedJune 17, 2012).15 Kim N.B. Ninh,  A World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in Revolutionary Vietnam, 1945  –  1965  (Ann Arbor:University of Michigan Press, 2002); Heinz Schütte,  Fünfzig Jahre Danach: Hundert Blumen in Vietnam 1954  –  1960 (Hamburg: Hamburger Südostasienstudien, Band 3, 2009).16 Zachary Abuza,  Renovating Politics in Contemporary Vietnam  (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001), 42. Global Change, Peace & Security  79    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U   Q    L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   1   5  :   5   1   2   4   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   3  The spirit of the movement was revived on the threshold of   Doi Moi  in the late 1980s through thebattle for intellectual freedom and press freedom. Many political dissidents argued that such free-doms serve the CPV ’ s interests by  ‘ making it more ef  󿬁 cient, less corrupt, and more accountable tothe people ’ . 17 Their arguments were rejected and they were heavily clamped down on by the state.Remarkably, during the period, the Club of Former Resistance Fighters, an independent pressuregroup within the party-state circle, had become what is termed by Abuza   ‘ an internal loyal oppo-sition to the party ’ 18 by mounting substantial civil society actions and was subsequently coercedinto dissolution. Similarly, in 2007, the Institute for Development Studies, an independent policyresearch institution led by prominent intellectuals like Nguyen Quang A and Hoang Tuy, was alsodissolved by decision of the Prime Minister.Another important phenomenon that characterizes the (re-)emergence of a nascent civilsociety in Vietnam since the early 1990s is the proliferating number of organizations and associ-ations, which attract great scholarly attention. 19 The impact of market reforms on the  ‘ revitalisa-tion of groups and associations ’  was noted by Thayer:  ‘ With the exception of groups which haveattempted to engage in overtly political activity, state authority has generally tolerated  –  if not encouraged  –  the activities of revitalized organisations and newly formed associations. ’ 20 According to Vietnamese government statistics, by June 2005 there had been 320 associationsoperating at national level and 2150 associations at provincial and equivalent municipal level. At sub-province and sub-city level, associations are also common. The database compiled by theVietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) alone in 2011 included391 Vietnamese non-governmental organizations (VNGOs). Meanwhile, in 2010, the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO) kept a record of over 800 international non-govern-mental organizations (INGOs) which had spent more than US$2 billion on different projects andprogrammes in Vietnam between 1989 and 2010. The INGOs have been working in close partner-ship with VNGOs or Vietnam  ’ s state agencies to deliver their projects. As the party-state has beenunable to prevent the growth of these social organizations, it has been employing a strategy of co-opting all these organizations by imposing structural ties and manoeuvring personnel appoint-ments. As a result, political connections and elitism have been highly evident in all VNGOsand their operations. 21 The explosion of associational activity has added to the growing interest in the concept of civilsociety in Vietnam despite the continuing control of the party-state. According to Hannah, whilethere were a number of possible ways that the term entered the Vietnamese language, the trans-lated version  ‘  xa hoi dan su ’  or   ‘  xa hoi cong dan ’  with contested denotations and diverse conno-tations has been signi 󿬁 cantly transplanted intoVietnamese political discourse along with the entryof the donor community in the early 1990s. 22 Despite its limited public discussion and the lack of an enabling legal framework due to the party-state ’ s inherent anathema to the concept, 23 civilsociety activity has transcended the development discourse and quietly established its presencein the political discourse. In the Vietnamese context, civil society is broadly understood as a  17 Ibid., 155.18 Ibid., 162.19 Carlyle Thayer,  ‘ Political Reform in Vietnam: Doi Moi and the Emergence of Civil Society ’ , in  The Developments of Civil Society in Communist Systems , ed. Robert F. Miller (North Sydney,NSW: Allen and Unwin, 1992); Mark Sidel, ‘ The Emergence of a Voluntary Sector and Philanthropy in Vietnam: Functions, Legal Regulation and Prospects for the Future ’ ,  Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonpro  󿬁 t Organizations  8, no. 3 (1997); MichaelL. Gray,  ‘ Creating Civil Society? The Emergence of NGOs in Vietnam  ’ ,  Development and Change  30, no. 4 (1999).20 Carlyle Thayer,  ‘ Mono-Organizational Socialism and the State ’ , in  Vietnam ’ s Rural Transformation , ed. Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet and Dough J. Porter (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1995), 52.21 Gray,  ‘ Creating Civil Society? ’ 22 Joseph Hannah,  ‘ Local Non-Government Organizations in Vietnam: Development, Civil Society and State-SocietyRelations ’  (PhD diss., University of Washington, Seattle, 2007).23 The Law on Association was withdrawn from Vietnamese political and legal agenda in 2008 after 13 drafts had beenproduced and debated. 80  T.H. Bui    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U   Q    L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   1   5  :   5   1   2   4   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   3
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