The International Buddhist Information Bureau received 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 March 5th 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, 84, 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 March 5th; and the Declaration of Free Citizens, posted on the site of Danlambao (Citizens’ Journalism) on February 28th, 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 and guarantee freedom of opinion and speech for all.
“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 among 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 people 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.”
He then suggested a tripartite system, with political parties representing the left, center 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 his most recent 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.