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Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do issues a Declaration on Pluralism and Democracy in Vietnam

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PARIS, 6 March 2013 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau received today a Declaration by the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, prominent dissident and Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) on political pluralism and multi-party democracy in Vietnam. The Declaration, written on 5 March 2013, was sent clandestinely from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where the UBCV leader is under effective house arrest.

Entitled “Democracy, the key to sustainable development, can bring prosperity, happiness and freedom to the Vietnamese people”, the Declaration contributes to the public debate following the Communist Party’s canvassing of opinion on reforming the 1992 Constitution which began in January 2013. Thich Quang Do particularly commended two documents that have emerged from this debate: the “Proposal for Reforming the Constitution” posted on the Bauxite.Vietnam blog which began with the signatures of 72 prominent VCP veterans and intellectuals and reached 6,611 signatures by 5 March; and the Declaration of Free Citizens, posted on the site of Danlambao (Citizens’ Journalism) on 28 February, which has over 4,200 signatures. Inspired by the article of journalist Nguyen Duc Kien, this Declaration makes five proposals: to abolish Article 4 (on the mastery of the Vietnamese Communist Party – VCP) and hold a Congress to establish a new Constitution / support multi-party democracy / separate the powers of the executive, legislative and the judiciary / de-politicize the military / guarantee freedom of opinion and speech for all.

Thich Quang Do - Photo IBIB  
Thich Quang Do – Photo IBIB

“On behalf of the UBCV, I warmly welcome these two courageous and timely proposals which reflect the views of over ten thousand people”, wrote Thich Quang Do. “They rub clean the tarnished image of politics as a Machiavellian system bent on upholding the privileges and prerogatives of a minority clique. They reveal an awareness that politics is not just a power-struggle, but the civic responsibility of all citizens to shape a system that cares for the people and protects the nation”.

Thich Quang Do, a 2013 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was amongst the very first to call publicly for democratic change in Vietnam’s one-Party state. His “Appeal for Democracy” with an 8-point transition plan launched just 11 years ago in February 2001 was followed by a “New Year’s Letter to the Vietnamese Intelligentsia” in 2005 proposing a pluralistic, multi-party system.

“When I launched my “Appeal for Democracy” in February 2001, and later my “New Year’s Letter” in 2005, appeals or actions for democracy were few and far between. They were difficult to realize and easy to suppress”, he wrote. Despite this, the Appeal won over 300,000 signatures from Vietnamese at home and abroad. It was made public by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in 2001 with the endorsement of hundreds of international personalities, including 35 members of the US Congress.

Thich Quang Do quoted from the 2005 “New Year’s Letter” in which he urged the VCP to embrace multiparty democracy: “The VCP and the government should not be afraid that freedom and democracy will make them lose power. Not at all! Rather, they should be afraid that they have ruled unjustly and betrayed the people’s confidence. Take the example of communist parties in Eastern Europe. They have embraced democracy and the multi-party system. Yet in countries like the Czech Republic and Poland, people vote freely for the communist party. The important thing is that all parties participate on an equal footing, and people have the freedom to choose between competing political platforms”. Thich Quang Do had then suggested a tripartite system, with political parties representing the left, centre and right. He also warned Hanoi’s leaders: “The government should not think that because it has prisons, a massive army and a strong police force, it can do whatever it wants. The best way to ensure political stability is to build a regime founded on the support of the people” by means of democratic elections and universal suffrage.

In today’s “Declaration”, Thich Quang Do called on Hanoi’s Communist leaders to “respect fundamental human rights, so that all sectors of the population may express themselves freely and make constructive proposals for the country’s development. They should not be muzzled by abusive, arbitrary provisions on “national security” which have been regularly and wrongly invoked to arrest and detain Vietnamese patriots over the past years”.

He also urged Vietnamese at home and abroad to join together to forge a “Path of Peace” in the new year. “This Path of Peace is the path of multi-party democracy which will lead our people to stability, development and happiness”, he wrote.

As his contribution to the debate on the Constitution and political reforms, Thich Quang Do recalled the 8-point transition plan in his 2001 Appeal for Democracy. The UBCV’s 11-year-old proposals are still fresh and relevant to the situation in Vietnam today:

1. To build a tolerant, pluralist and egalitarian society, one that refrains from internal and external warfare, governed by democratic institutions within a multiparty political system;

2. Dismantle all discriminatory, antidemocratic mechanisms of control, notably the threefold mechanism of the “ly lich” (curriculum vitae), “ho khau” (compulsory residence permit) and the network of “cong an khu vuc” (local security police). Organize free and fair general elections under United Nations’ supervision to elect a National Assembly truly representative of the people; guarantee universal suffrage and the right to run for office of all independent candidates and political formations outside the VPC. Separate the powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary organs and build a society grounded on the rule of law, based on the principles enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

3. Definitively close down all reeducation camps; release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience detained in northern Vietnam after the 1954 Geneva Agreement and in southern Vietnam since 1975, and encourage the participation of all former prisoners with specialist skills and knowledge in the process of national reconstruction. At the same time, encourage all professionals, intellectuals, scholars, business leaders, individuals and organizations from the Vietnamese Diaspora who left Vietnam as boat people after 1975 to return home and contribute the techniques and experiences learned in advanced countries to rebuilding their homeland; repeal all arbitrary legislation and restrictions on religious freedom, and prohibit the practice of “administrative detention”;

4. Guarantee the right to private property, free enterprise, and the right to establish free trade unions. Accelerate policies to industrialize agriculture and modernize the rural economy, and improve the living standards of the peasants and farmers, who form the potential of our nation. Abandon the “market-based but socialist-orientated economy”. The manifest failure of the outdated socialist economy to generate prosperity and growth after a 74-year experiment in the Soviet Union provoked the enmity of its people and led ultimately to its demise in the early 1990s. Develop the free market sector in accordance with Vietnamese societal norms, stimulate the development of a knowledge-led economy and protection of the environment. Embrace the trend towards globalization as a means of enhancing sustainable development and promoting global peace and security, but combat the serious dangers posed by the current economic globalization process, which promotes free trade without due respect of human and worker rights. Concentrate all efforts on reducing the widening gulf between the rich and poor, which is alienating our people and splitting Vietnamese society apart;

5. Protect our territorial sovereignty. Make a clear separation between politics and the military; the army, security forces and secret services should not be used as instruments of any political party. Reduce the manpower of the armed forces to that of normal peacetime strength. Reduce the military budget and transfer excess spending to education and health. In the field of education, urgently train people of talent and specialists capable of restoring the nation’s prosperity; encourage the emergence of a transitional generation – young people who can forge a transitional path [towards democracy] between the aspirations of the old, revolutionary generation, partisans of war and anachronistic class-struggle (…) and the modern preoccupation with consumerism, money-worship and the daily pressures of making ends meet. Health access must be improved. Priority should be given to solving the grave problem of child malnutrition and improving health infrastructures in rural areas;

6. (…) Promote the development of vibrant, traditional Vietnamese culture based on a spirit of openness, creativity and the capacity to absorb the richness and diversity of cultures from all over the world. Uphold the fundamental moral values of humanism, wisdom and courage exhorted by our ancestors. Guarantee social justice, the equal status and full participation of women, nondiscrimination between religions; respect the autonomy and cultural differences of ethnic minorities; protect the interests of foreigners living and investing in Vietnam through due process of law, on the basis of reciprocity; guarantee the rights and dignity of Vietnamese living abroad;

7. Respect the territorial sovereignty of neighbouring nations. Promote a policy of friendship, dialogue and cooperation on an equal footing with neighbouring countries in all economic, cultural, religious and social domains. Consolidate efforts to promote peace, security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. Join with neighbouring countries in a common effort to foster the values of Asian humanism and tolerance. By maintaining mankind’s central place within society, we can prevent the free market from becoming a slave market where human beings are reduced to simple commodities of trade;

8. In foreign policy, uphold the Vietnamese tradition of friendly and peaceful relations, and implement “tam cong” (“winning the hearts”) diplomacy in relationships with countries around the world. Promote dialogue, cooperation and mutual aid in order to bring reciprocal benefits to one and all without sacrificing national identity and sovereignty. Apply this policy as basis for accelerating economic growth and expanding industrialization on a parallel with social progress, in order to catch up and keep pace with the civilized, progressive and prosperous democratic nations of the world at the dawn of the 21st century”.

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