When Prime Minister Nguyen Van Dung visited Myanmar in April 2010, he told top government leaders that Vietnam supported the country’s “road map” to democratization. Later, he said from the chair at the conclusion of the 16th annual ASEAN Summit in Hanoi that forthcoming “elections should be free and democratic with the participation of all parties” in Myanmar. It was a truly stunning statement, coming from the leader of a one-party government in which the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam enjoys a Constitutional role as “the force assuming leadership of the State and society” and the government strictly controls elections.
But his remarks passed without much comment since stranger, more hypocritical things have been said in the halls and meeting rooms of ASEAN over the years. Most observers assumed Vietnam was again simply functioning as the leader of ASEAN’s so-called CLMV bloc (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) of strictly authoritarian states, continuing its efforts to mitigate criticisms and push back on economic sanctions directed at Myanmar by ASEAN dialogue partners like Australia, Canada, the US and the EU. Little more than six months later, on Nov. 7, 2010, Myanmar held an election to choose members of a parliament where 25 percent of the seats are reserved for the armed forces. The polls were neither free nor fair and were characterized by vote tampering that ensured an overwhelming victory by the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Continue reading