Vietnam thwarts dissidents, pop star election bid

26 April 2016
Vietnam thwarts dissidents, pop star election bid
Vietnamese pop star, singer and musician Mai Khoi. Photo: Mai Khoi

Vietnam has blocked a motley crew of independent candidates from running for seats in its rubber stamp parliament, activists said Tuesday, a move they say highlights the communist country's "facade of democracy".
In an unprecedented showing this year, more than 100 independent candidates -- including dissidents, a taxi driver and a pop star -- tried to run for Vietnam's National Assembly.
But authorities refused to approve their candidacies, regardless of the support they attracted at local voter meetings.
"All the real independent candidates have been disqualified," activist Doan Trang told AFP.
A handful of "fake" independent candidates have made it through the gruelling selection process, but they all have official backing and are part of a plan to create a facade of democracy, she said.
On paper, Vietnam has an admirably democratic constitution, which allows any person over 21 to seek election to parliament. But the reality is quite different.
"No matter how much effort they put into running as an independent candidate, they'd definitely fail if they're not on the pre-approved list," an official at a local election unit told AFP.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP there were secret plans to allow some independent candidates to run to give the impression of functioning democracy in the authoritarian country.
"I personally was told to encourage two neighbours to run, to demonstrate that the campaign is democratic," he said, adding that he later encouraged them to "voluntarily" withdraw from the race.
As genuine independent candidates like pop idol Mai Khoi have discovered, it is not possible to even get on the ballot.
Despite attracting widespread public support from her social media campaign, Mai Khoi -- dubbed Vietnam's Lady Gaga -- was disqualified.
"The Fatherland Front (a powerful Communist Party controlled organisation) is the one that makes the decision," she said, adding it didn't matter how much actual support a candidate received from voters.
"It's a waste of time and money," she said, of the current election process.
Other independent candidates such as Phan Van Bach, a 41-year-old taxi driver and father of four, said the authorities used "childish tactics" and threats to force them out of the race. 
Bach's wife received a call saying "tell your husband to stop running for elections or he might have a traffic accident," he said, adding he remained undeterred.
Mai Khoi has issued a video invitation to US President Barack Obama, who is due to visit Vietnam in May, to meet the disqualified candidates and push for electoral reform in Vietnam.