Law and society in Vietnam by Mark Sidel

By Mark Sidel

Sidel examines the fight to construct a rule of legislations in Vietnam.

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What emerges from an analysis of these debates is that, at least in Vietnam, and in recent years, the Constitution has become considerably more than a mechanism for control and mobilization. In the Vietnamese case, the Constitution has also become a platform for wide-ranging debate on political, economic, and social arrangements in a transitional state. The Vietnamese Constitution and its amendment and dialogue processes have become a forum for dialogue – moderated, bounded, and controlled dialogue – as well as a framework for management and mobilization.

This analytical framework dominated western understanding of the Chinese Constitution for at least four decades after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, as well as the understanding of Vietnam’s constitutional processes for virtually all of the history of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1954–1976) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976–present) (Institute of Law 1977). At the same time, there have been a few scholars and other observers dissatisfied with the simplicities of an analytical model in which a constitution is nothing but a tool of the Party, who sought an initial understanding of the role of constitutional dialogue in such states even at times when the socialist countries were ruled by authoritarian regimes far stricter than those now in place in such countries as Vietnam and China.

In an interview in the key legal newspaper Phap Luat (Law) in late September, the Assembly Chairman (and Chair of the Constitutional Amendment Commission) reiterated the Party’s view that the 1992 Constitution should (and would) not undergo wholesale revision nor replacement, a direct counter to the fundamental revision view. But the real message of An’s September 19 interview was to address what became known as the Article 4 issue. Article 4 of the 1992 Constitution had, like other Vietnamese constitutions before it, stipulated the Party’s leadership role over Vietnamese state and society.

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