HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam passed a revised constitution on Thursday that reaffirms the dominant political and economic role of the Communist Party, disappointing reform advocates who had taken advantage of an unprecedented public revision process to press for far greater change.
The Communist Party announced its plan to change the charter earlier this year, citing the need to keep up with changing economic times.
An early draft removed a clause saying the state sector must "play the leading role" in the national economy, leading to hopes the government might dismantle corruption-riddled and unproductive state-owned enterprises that eat up much of the national budget. But the version passed Thursday by 98 percent of the members of the national assembly in Hanoi reinstated that wording.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam said in a statement that the failure to reduce the role of state-owned enterprises in the new charter was "not an encouraging sign that the country is eager to compete in the global economy."
The charter also says the Communist Party is the "leading force of the state and society," apparently dashing any hopes of political reform.
During the revision process, the government asked the public for suggestions via the Internet, setting off a flurry of rare open criticism and political discourse in a country where there is no parliamentary democracy, free speech or right to protest.
Outspoken economist Nguyen Quang A, who was one of a group of 72 intellectuals who signed a public petition calling for change during the amendment process, said he was not surprised that the final version did not contain any significant changes. "This national assembly belongs to the Communist Party of Vietnam, not the Vietnamese people," he said.
For analysts following the country, the constitutional revision process and an historic confidence vote in its political leaders were both signs of a gradually transforming political landscape, even as some parts of the state seek to crack down on freedom of speech over the Internet.
"While champions of reforms might be expected to be disappointed, the larger story is that politically because of this process, regardless of the formal outcome, Vietnam is a different place politically than it once was," said Jonathan London of the City University of Hong Kong.