UNDP Supporting Electoral Reform as Viet Nam Goes to the Polls
Ha Noi -The UN Development Programme (UNDP), with the Governments of Switzerland and Canada, is helping Viet Nam to implement new electoral rules in the run up to this weekend's local elections. The elections, Viet Nam's first since its new Law on Election of Deputies to People?s Councils, is set to give people a greater voice and make local decision-making more accountable.
The amended law was passed last year, since which time UNDP’s project to strengthen the capacity of People’s Representative Bodies, has been supporting Government efforts to inform local officials and the public about its main features and their implications. Significant changes now exist in three areas: the procedures for nomination and selection of candidates, the use of mass media, and the management of the electoral process.
Observers say this election is the most open in Viet Nam’s recent history with increased involvement of the media, greater self-nomination of candidates, nomination of candidates by villages, wide dissemination of electoral rules and processes and declaration of candidates’ assets. UNDP Resident Representative Jordan Ryan notes that these positive changes are part of a process that ensures openness and transparency, vital ingredients for the development of Vietnamese democracy.
“Through openness”, Mr. Ryan says, “ordinary people can come to feel real ownership of the electoral and political system. As their feeling of ownership grows, so too does their awareness that politicians, institutions and bureaucrats are there to serve the needs of people rather than to define them. Meaningful democracy in Viet Nam depends on this openness.”
One sign of greater openness is the new website (www.baucudaibieuhdnd.gov.vn), launched with support from UNDP, Switzerland and Canada, to provide better information on the elections to the public. Visitors to the website can access information on the current legal framework for local elections in Viet Nam as well as the election results. An information briefing on the elections was also held last week for international donors by the Office of the National Assembly (ONA).
According to the ONA, the provinces now have 6,052 candidates, in which 32.4 %t are women, 21% are aged under 35 years old, non-Party members account for 24 % and ethnic minorities hold 20.1 %. Of vital importance is that there are 3,871 council positions for 6,052 candidacies, meaning that the public will reject over 2,000 disappointed candidates who will have five years to reflect on the difference between what they said and what the people wanted to hear.
Mr. Walter Meyer, Head of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation said: “A major focus on capacity building, including for the welcome and larger number of women, young and non-party candidates likely to be elected, is crucial if we want to gain the full benefits of democratization and decentralization that are offered by the amended Law.”
Notably the amended Law seeks to increase the political representation of women by setting the minimum target ratio of women in the People’s Councils at all levels at 25%. For the current term (1999-2004), women ratio in People's Councils for provincial, district and commune levels is 22.5%, 20.7% and 16.6% respectively.
To increase their chance of being elected, the National Committee for the Advancement of Women conducted leadership trainings for more than 1,530 first time women candidates from 17 provinces. Specific topics included leadership, gender policies, planning skills and decision-making. These trainings were organized in March 2004 by the project “Gender in Public policy", supported by UNDP, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
“Improving the quality of People’s Councils and ensuring democratic processes that are responsive to the needs of the people are vital to reach Viet Nam’s goals to reduce poverty, sustain the environment and promote human development which are part of the Millennium Development Goals that Viet Nam is committed to achieve by 2015”, says Mr. Ryan.