We don’t spend much time talking about Vietnam, other than its allure as a holiday destination. But the time has come to talk about politics in this sickle-shaped nation.

Overnight, an important piece of news emerged on various social media outlets: 61 senior members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party have written a letter openly denouncing the country’s leadership and accusing them of taking the “wrong path”.  They also issued a series of demands including an end to the socialist system and a “decisive shift” from dictatorship to democracy.

Let’s just recap. A band of top communist party officials, including policy makers and former advisors to the prime minister, want to scrap communism. In one-party states like Vietnam, unsanctioned interventions of this variety are frowned upon. But the fact that an influential group have come forward to challenge their peers at the top says something important about discontent within the party and in the nation as a whole.

30 vietnam 2 g w Vietnamese communists call for end to... Vietnamese communism

Public criticism of the Vietnamese establishment, including the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is unusual

There is of course, plenty to complain about in Vietnam. The country suffers from widespread corruption, a paucity of jobs for graduates, a wobbly banking sector and scores of over-leveraged state-owned companies. To top it off, there’s also China.

In May, the Chinese towed an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam and dispatched a flotilla of more than one hundred ships to protect it. Enraged, thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets, burning Chinese flags and several foreign-owned factories. Two Chinese workers were killed and more than one hundred injured.

The authors of the open letter say their own leaders are to blame, accusing them of weakness and collusion in their dealings with Chinese officials. They want the Vietnamese government to “come clean” about a secret summit in which Vietnam is alleged to have secretly handed over territory to its giant neighbour.

It is difficult to know where the open letter will lead but Hoi Trinh of advocacy group Voice, says it will encourage a small, growing and increasingly emboldened band of pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. “What is surprising about the letter is that it was made public,” says Trinh. “It’s not the way things are done in Vietnam. You can criticise the government within your family. You can even criticise them in the coffee shop. You don’t do it publicly – but these people did exactly that.”

The government will almost certainly use the state media to denounce those involved but where these well-known critics of the Communist regime go, many more may follow.

 

Among the 61 prominent signatories to the letter, were the following:

Lieutenant-General Nguyen Trong Vinh -former Vietnam ambassador to China

Nguyen Khac Mai – Dean of of Vietnamese Philosophy Institute

Dao Xuan Sam – former member of the Prime Minister Research Committee

Tran Duc Nguyen -former Chair of the Prime Minister Research Committee

Lieutenant-General Le Duy Mat

Vu Quoc Tuan- adviser to former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet

To Hoa – former editor-in-chief of major Party paper Saigon Giai Phong

Ta Dinh Thinh – Bureau Chief – Central Party Head Office

Nguyen Ngoc – famous author, former Party secretary [of state-controlled Vietnam Writers's Association]

Nguyen Trung -former Vietnam ambassador to Thailand

Le Than- former CEO of state-owned company SG-Riversite

Ms Kim Chi – famous actress (recently expelled from the Party membership after her trip to the US to take part in a forum about freedom of expression)

Former editors-in-chief of major Party newspapers, magazines such as Song Huong (Perfume River), Thanh Nien (Youth), Lao Dong (Labour)…

[Note: journalist Pham Chi Dung, a leading member of the civil society movement, is also a former Party member]