​As times change, so should elections

May 26, 2021 | 06:09 pm PT
Nguyen Khac Giang Researcher
Active participation and interest in politics are vital for citizens' voices to be heard and their votes to actually count.

As dawn breaks the head of my neighborhood patrols the streets, calling on everyone to go out and vote without fail in the National Assembly and People's Council elections.

People like him are seemingly the busiest during every election. The day before the elections he had already walked from house to house, handing out flyers to remind people to vote, but exhorted them again nevertheless on the morning of the election.

The last time I voted, I reached the local polling station at around 9 a.m. I saw those around me shuffling papers and clicking pens to complete the voting process. Some even voted on behalf of family members. That was illegal, but voting committees decided to let that pass since they all had voting quotas" to fill anyway.

I had read up on all the candidates and carefully collected my thoughts to decide who would have the most positive impact on the community. But in the end it was all just gut feeling.

The first time I saw their faces was in photos put up at the voting booth since I had never actually met any of them when they were campaigning.

That election day went well, at least according to the neighborhood chief. But for the next five years no one actually remembered the names of those National Assembly members they had voted into office. I did not either though I am supposedly a policy researcher.

Some say the candidates they chose haven't done enough to make sufficient impacts. But I believe it's partly our fault as well since it is we who voted them in in the first place.

Sure, the National Assembly is not perfect. It is not omniscient to know about every single issue faced by society. And, let's face it, some of its members abused their power and position to exploit others or simply failed to contribute enough.

But that is why we voters have a responsibility to change that.

People line up and read info about National Assembly and Peoples Council candidates before voting in Quang Nam, May 23, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

People line up and read up about National Assembly and People's Council candidates before voting in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam, on May 23, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Earlier this year a student approached me to talk about the election, and said: "We want more young people to participate in this year's elections." They spoke about creating a National Assembly election guide that is friendlier to young people.

I was both surprised and ashamed. Surprised since, in my mind, "youth" is associated with K-pop and bubble tea and Instagram stories and Twitter trends. I had not thought politics was high on their list of priorities.

I felt ashamed for thinking like that.

Maybe my bias stemmed from my own ignorance and experience, which considered elections choreographed events.

Many families still believe that politics is too "sensitive" and for "adults only," and bar younger people from contributing even to issues that matter to their own lives.

But times are changing. As old leaves leave their branches and young ones begin to bud, new attitudes are necessary.

Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong recently stressed the importance of citizens participating in social management, including through voting.

Casting votes and choosing who will represent us in the National Assembly are part of the process of achieving that.

If we ignore politics, how can we exercise our democratic rights?

Caring about politics is much more than caring about social issues; it is to protect our legal rights. The thorniest, most long-standing problems could be placed before the National Assembly through the candidates we choose. Even if they cannot be solved immediately, just voicing them out loud and acknowledging their existence is itself of value.

But it is not only voters who need to walk the talk. In a country where over 60 million people use social media, it is staggering to see that hardly any National Assembly candidate utilizes that fact to get to know their voters.

Yes, they do have phone numbers, emails and addresses, but I have seen only one People's Council member in Hanoi use Facebook.

It is good to meet voters face to face, but if one is too busy to show up, there needs to be a quicker, more accessible way for citizens to reach out to their candidates.

Candidates also stand to benefit by explaining to voters about the things that have yet to be accomplished or the shortcomings of the previous period.

That is especially important for those who wish to be reelected as it leaves a lasting impression on voters.

Reports to achieve the goal also does not need to be too complex. A simple, minutes-long video, like those put out by the U.S. senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Twitter account, will suffice.

There is no shortage of ways for voters and candidates to communicate with one another if only they put their minds to it.

As Vietnam struggles with the latest Covid-19 wave, the election is like a draft of fresh, hopeful air in the political landscape.

It is kindled by the enthusiasm of young people, the presence of independent candidates and several other factors.

Casting a vote is easy, but what is more important is how we monitor our representatives for the next five years.

I believe that citizens' active participation in politics will help the National Assembly fully grow into its role of representing society. Changes will not happen overnight, but with every incremental step walked by each and everyone of us, such a future is surely within reach.

*Nguyen Khac Giang is a researcher in policy making and government transparency. He is a PhD candidate at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The opinions expressed are his own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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