–Bui Ngoc Son, Vietnam National University
Vietnam is comprehensively revising her 1992 constitution for the second time, 12 years after the first amendment in 2001. The draft new constitution prepared by the Constitutional Amendment Committee has been released to the public for debate from January to April, 2013. According to the agenda, the new constitution will be send to the National Assembly for adoption in October 2013.
A group of 72 senior scholars of the country coming from different majors has introduced a highly controversial petition which is now known as Petition 72. On February 4, the group led by Dr Nguyen Dinh Loc, a famous constitutional law scholar and former Minister of Justice, submitted the Petition to the Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee. This meeting was attended and reported by state owned media. The Petition includes 7 points as follows:
The first is about the Preamble and Chapter 1 of the draft constitution. Concerning the Preamble, the petition calls for redefinition of the goals of the constitution so as to limit the state power and to protect the security, freedom, and happiness of the people as well as recognition of “we the people” as the subject of the constituent power. On the Chapter 1- the Political Regime, the petition suggests a competitive political sysyem of different parties, significantly challenging Article 4 of the constitution (both current and draft) which affirms the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
The second major point concerns human rights, arguing for the protection of constitutional human rights in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Petition 72 criticizes the human rights provisions in the draft constitution which allow restrictions on human rights for reasons of national defence, security, and social order. The petitioners believe that these constrictions will open the doors for repressing human rights. To protect human rights, they also suggest introducing in the constitution an independent Human Right Committee.
Third, the petitioners suggest the constitutional recognition of multiple forms of ownership of land, including the private ownership. This challenges the current constitutionally protected state ownership of all land. Fourth, the petitioners call for the practice of the separation of powers and other forms of checks and balances. This challenges the Soviet-derived dogma of unitary power which dominates the current constitutional order in Vietnam.
Fifth, the petitioners call for removal of the new regulation in the draft constitution which demands the loyalty of the armed forces to the Communist Party. Alternatively, they suggest that the armed forces should protect the fatherland and to serve the people, not to be loyal to any particular organization. Sixth, the petitioners suggest that the new constitution must be approved by the people in a transparent referendum which is supervised by the people and media. Finally. the group calls for extending the time for public consultation of the draft new constitution until the end of 2013.
As an appendix to the Petition, the group also introduces its own draft constitution, which radically follows the western standards of liberal constitutionalism, including a multi-party system, the Montesquieuian governmental structure, and the constitutional court. This western style draft constitution has been disseminated on the Internet and is the subject of extensive blog discussions. However, the petitioners also requestthe Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee to publicize it.
In response, on February 7, 2013, Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee issued a document, which rejects the publicization of the petitioner’s constitutional daft and the call for extension of the time of public constitutional consultation. As for the other suggestions, the Committee states generally that different ideas of individuals and organizations will be collected during the process of editing the draft amended 1992 constitution. So far, Petition 72 has received more than 6000 signatures supporting it.
Petition 72 contains radical proposals which dramatically challenge the substantial characters of the Vietnamese socialist constitutional order, particularly the leadership of the Communist Party, the principle of unity of power, and the state ownership of land. Understandably, it is highly difficult for the communist constitution-makers to adopt it.
However, the phenomenon of Petition 72 reveals some important implications in a socialist context. First, the constitution-making process in Vietnam now tends to be more open and participatory than in earlier eras, to certain extent. Second, constitutional discourse in Vietnam, particularly during public debates over the new constitution, has been significantly impacted by the globalization of constitutionalism. Constitutional law scholars and other reformists in this socialist nation now talk in the language of liberal constitutionalism. These are the beginning of the flickering hope of constitutional government in Vietnam.
Dr Nguyen Dinh Loc (right) gives the Petition to Dr Le Minh Thong (left)- Vice President of the Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee
Suggested Citation: Bui Ngoc Son, Petititon 72: The Struggle for Constitutional Reforms in Vietnam, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Mar. 28, 2013, available at http://www.iconnectblog.com/2013/03/petition-72-the-struggle-for-constitutional-reforms-in-vietnam/