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    Southeast Asia
     Aug 20, '13

New Vietnamese party to challenge rulers
By Mac Lam and An Nguyen

A veteran member of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam is spearheading efforts to form a new party to challenge the government by attracting support from members disgruntled by a slowing economy and concerned over Chinese territorial encroachment.

The Social Democratic Party founded last week by Le Hieu Dang, a leading dissident and 45-year Communist Party member, aims to establish multiparty rule and ''build a true democracy'', its leaders said, vowing to confront the government despite the risk of arrest.

Hundreds of Communist Party members have already decided to

leave the Communist Party to join the new party, according to a statement by the Social Democratic Party, whose founding follows rare public debate this year on the need for constitutional amendments allowing multiparty rule.

The Communist Party's monopoly on power is enshrined in the constitution and formation of other parties is banned. Questioning the Communist Party rule is considered a serious crime in Vietnam and dozens of activists and netizens have been arrested this year for anti-state activities.

Dang, a civil rights lawyer, said he had founded the Social Democratic Party because Vietnam is facing a ''critical time'', adding that reforms are needed if the country is to continue its social and economic progress.

''The reason behind having a new party coexisting with the Communist Party is that for any development of society, we always need different opinions,'' he told RFA's Vietnamese Service on Monday. ''Society can't develop if there is only one opinion, one ruling party.''

A rival to the Communist Party is needed to challenge its policies on economic reforms and ties with China, he said, referring to Hanoi's territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea and what he termed excessive Chinese investments on land in Vietnam's resource-rich Central Highlands.

''Our social and economic situation is getting worse. There are concerns about our economy and education,'' he said.

The Communist Party, which has based its grassroots support on rapid economic growth over the past decades, has been battered in recent years by a series of high-level corruption scandals in state-owned enterprises.

'Ready for any attack'
Despite possible dangers of repercussions, the Social Democratic Party intends to operate ''legally, not in secret'', Dang said. Cofounder Ho Ngoc Nhuan, the former vice-chair of the party-backed Vietnam Fatherland Front's Ho Chi Minh City unit, said in a statement announcing the organization's establishment that members were prepared to face the consequences of challenging the ruling party.

''We are ready for any attack,'' he said in the August 15 statement which was circulated online, urging young people to join. ''Don't have any reservations; don't be scared of being arrested or mistreated,'' he said.

The party is counting on garnering the support of longtime Communist Party members who feel disappointed in its authoritarian rule, he told RFA. ''They are angry. They have fought for the country and for the people all their lives and now they feel betrayed.''

The Social Democratic Party is committed to nonviolence and does not intend to ''ruin'' the Communist Party, but rather ''talk to them as equals", he said. Its establishment follows a proposal for multiparty rule made in January in a draft constitution signed by 72 Vietnamese intellectuals and activists including Dang, Nhuan, and other longtime Communist Party members as well as government officials.

The proposed draft, an alternative to a government version that upheld protections for Communist Party's rule enshrined in the constitution, garnered thousands of signatures of support after it was circulated online.

Journalist Nguyen Dac Kien was fired by his state-run newspaper after he blogged about an attack by the Communist Party chief on those calling for greater constitutional reforms. Many members of Bloc 8406, a coalition of activist groups that in 2006 wrote an online manifesto calling for multiparty rule, have faced arrest.

Reported by Mac Lam and An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Originally published by Radio Free Asia. Republished with permission. For original, see here.

(Copyright 2013 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.)

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