Much has been made in the international media this week about Vietnam’s prime minister surviving the country’s first-ever confidence vote in the National Assembly. But to millions of people in Vietnam’s rice fields, factories, banks, and fish farms, the event was much ado about nothing.
That the vote took place at all suggests Vietnam is evolving toward pluralistic politics as Communist Party fractures reach the public domain. A prominent leader last year publicly called for Nguyen Tan Dung to resign as prime minister, and — even as more Vietnamese citizens face prison for political dissent — the momentum toward a more open society in Vietnam appears unstoppable.
The question is whether it can happen fast enough to rescue the country from a permanent state of economic stagnation. Whether Vietnam’s single party does or doesn’t have confidence in its prime minister is irrelevant; what matters is whether investors, both domestic and foreign, have confidence that Vietnam’s institutions can be trusted to ensure a level playing field.
Earlier this week the government issued a statement saying 32% in the legislature gave the prime minister a “low confidence” ranking in a secret performance evaluation. The vote and the statement seemed to be part of Vietnam’s effort to balance social, political, and economic stability — at a time when many people are hoping for meaningful reforms.
What Vietnam’s rural population and international business community have in common is that neither cares whether the politicians in Hanoi have confidence in the prime minister; both want to know what his government is going to do to give them confidence in Vietnam’s promise.