Recently, I got caught up with Politics. Not that I was not interested before: I checked a Vietnamese newspaper ten times a day during the peak of the 2008 US election just for the curiosity of whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic Party nomination. It’s funny though I never paid attention to any election in Vietnam; or maybe, just like one of my friends had said, we have no real election in Vietnam. But I do remember people excited to go cast a vote on election day – or at least many of my friends were so eager to turn 18 just to get to put a little paper into a sealed box. That sounded fun, but after the paper went inside the box, no body really cared who would be elected. Probably they thought it would not make any difference anyways.
Now that I thought again, my attention for the US election that year was just as pathetic as the Vietnamese people’s attention for their country’s election. I loved to read statistics, loved to see who was winning, waited to see Hillary Clinton be nominated. But I never knew why I wanted her in office – nor was I aware of how she was different from Obama. This has a little bit to do with my childhood: I was born when Clinton won the office, and during most of my childhood, the US economy got such a boom and budget surplus that my parents, admiring Bill Clinton so much, decided to give me the nickname Bill Clinton. So I was their little “president” for a few years. (Sadly the next president Bush was hated and henceforth my brother didn’t get to have a presidential nickname) Back to the point, probably because of my childhood’s affiliation with the name “Clinton”, I wanted Hillary to be in office, that’s all. Never knew what she was good at.
So my friend was both right and wrong in saying that Vietnam had no real election. First, just to be sure, I’m not talking anything about the single-party rule of Communism, since I do believe that one party is enough for a country. But here I’m not trying to argue for/against that. The real problem in Vietnam election is that within many Vietnamese Communist party candidates, it’s usually hard to pick the right one. This is, I believe, mostly due to the lack of campaigning process; no one really goes out there and speaks his policies to the crowds. It’s rather ironic to be able to vote, but when looking at the candidates list one cannot decide who’s better than whom, and this case is not rare. I remember a kid in my middle school class used to tell other kids in the class: “Tell your mom and dad to vote for my dad to become the provincial congressman.” Some days after other kids so proudly replied “My parents voted for your dad. They didn’t recognize any other name.”
That goes to the second problem: The Communist leaders aren’t really close to the people, and the party’s presence is more and more unpopular each day. That wasn’t the case some years ago. When I started to go to school some ten years ago, most teachers recognized me by my last name, for my grandpa had been the provincial governor some years before. I was so proud, though, for the public’s compliments about his good works. Now no one really cares who the leader is. That explains why the potential candidates for the government positions are so unfamiliar. That also explains why I was never interested in Vietnamese election before; simply because no adult bothered to talk about it, and we kids tended to pick up most information from them.
Today I sat in a lunch table at Princeton, and the kids started talking about the Republican primary in New Hampshire. That was so my topic! I didn’t know why I spent so much time watching Republican debates, observing voting results, reading news, etc. or even went back to see a fight in the US Senate there years ago (Now I feel guilty for not studying for my final exams right now). But I love it here that so many people care about their nation’s future, and consequently, their future too. Now thinking back, I can’t think of many friends in Vietnam (who are already better than a standard Vietnamese young generation kid) that care that much about politics.
That’s not to say the situation is very gloomy right now. The government, the congress and the party are doing a better job now than what they were doing five years ago. A southern economist became Prime Minister, a Speaker of the Congress that is more fierce in questioning the Cabinet and a new Party general leader that recently (and finally) admits the fact that the party is losing its popularity,… all are going in the right direction. It seems like better and more responsible people somehow managed to assume power now and they are leading the country in the right direction. I watched a Vietnamese Congress meeting last month, and for the first time I could spend an hour just listening to their debate. That’s a good sign.
Even so, there is still much more to be done. Congress meetings are still far from being effective, many congressmen still lack both responsibility (they don’t speak at all during the meeting) and sufficient knowledge to contribute. Some ministers still don’t know their jobs, and the prime minister still hasn’t been able to fulfill every of his promise. The party recognized the problem but still hasn’t proposed any practical solution. I will wait to see what they will do to maneuver the country in a hard time like this. And watch out for 2022, I may be running.