Vietnam's Prime Minister apologizes for motor cavalcade in ancient town

By    August 17, 2016 | 11:54 pm PT
The move comes on the heels of a barrage of criticism on social media.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has issued an apology after his motorcade sailed down a pedestrian street in the well-preserved ancient town of Hoi An.

Prime Minister officially took responsibility at a meeting on Wednesday for letting his motorcade enter a banned street in Hoi An.

Phuc referred to himself in the third person in what appeared to be the first time in recent history a Vietnamese political leader has made a public apology.

“The Prime Minister walked a few kilometers ahead [of the motorcade]. The Prime Minister did not notice [the vehicles were following him down the street]. However, the Prime Minister was to blame for this mistake, for not overseeing [those in charge of the motorcade],” said Phuc.

He later extended apologies to the people and asked for public sympathy.

Last week in an attempt to boost the tourism industry, the PM paid a visit to the central coastal town of Hoi An, one of the country’s most popular destinations.

Criticism on social media went into overdrive shortly after pictures of the Prime Minister’s motorcade vehicles along the narrow ancient street were posted online.

In less than 24 hours, these pictures had been shared thousands of times and spread across the internet.

Many people posted on Facebook, saying that it was “politically insensitive” and “disrespectful” to a World Heritage Site.


Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc talks with foreign travellers in Hoi An. Photo by Quang Hieu

A tourism official from the central province of Quang Nam told the press on Wednesday that it was due to a sudden change to the Prime Minister’s schedule and poor coordination among government staff.

“The street is too narrow for the motorcade to make a u-turn,” said Nguyen Hong Quang, chief of office at Quang Nam’s People’s Committee.

According to the senior official, local authorities should be to blame for the incident.

It is uncommon for political leaders to apologize to the public in Vietnam. However, this is starting to change under mounting pressure from social media.

Vietnamese people are more willing to express their opinions on social platforms like Facebook.

According to Internet World Stats, Facebook is currently accessed by close to 30 million people in Vietnam, meaning one in every three Vietnamese people sign in to the social platform at least once a month.

By 2018 the number of Facebook users in the country is forecast to reach about 40 million.

Vietnam, with a population of 93 million, is currently ranked 18th in the world’s top 20 countries in terms of the number of internet users. Vietnam has more than 49 million people surfing the internet.

Last year, leaders scrapped a plan to fell 6,700 trees in Hanoi after it sparked massive public outrage.

Such climb-downs are part of a broader pattern of political leaders taking public opinions on social issues into account.

This has proven the increasingly important role of social media when it comes to scrutinizing the government.

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