03/04/2013, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Sovereignty lies with the people, not the (Communist) Party, Vietnamese bishops say

by J.B. An Dang
The Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam wants changes to the constitution, starting with Article 4, which grants the Communist Party a leadership role. For decades, those who proposed similar changes ended up in prison. Overseas Vietnamese appreciate the prelates' courage.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Sovereignty lies with the people, not the (Communist) Party. The latter rules without checks and balances, and its secretary has more power than the president or the prime minister, this according to the Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, which has recently issued a statement in English on VietCatholic News.

With courage and determination, the prelates focused on Article 4 of the constitution, which grants the Communist Party of Vietnam the unconditional leadership of the state.

In Vietnam, the issue has been "taboo", and any attempt to address it over the decades has been met with imprisonment.

However, an online petition has appeared in recent weeks, calling for an end to the one-party state and a major overhaul to the constitution to protect individual rights and private property as well as human rights.

For some critics, the petition is part of a democratic show put on by Communist leaders to limit popular resentment and control social unrest. It is also a way to solve conflicts of interests within the party and settle scores among factions.

For the prelates, changing the constitution is a serious matter. Many of society's problems are rooted in it, first and foremost in Article 4, which must be abolished because it has led to abuses, harassment and arbitrary incarceration.

"To respect the sovereignty of the people," the Standing Committee writes, "the Constitution should not and cannot categorically assert the leadership of any political party, as the subject of political authority is the people themselves". Elected officials must "take responsibility for what they do before the people".

And Article 4 is but a start. More should be done to the draft revision of the constitution as it currently stands, including the section on freedom of speech (Article 26), artistic and literary creation (Article 43), and freedom of religion and belief (Article 25).

Lastly, the relationship between the top offices of the state-the presidency, the post of prime minister and that of general secretary of the Communist Party-must be reviewed. Under the current system, the head of the party holds the real power.

Among overseas Vietnamese, the prelates' views have found an echo. "I thank Vietnamese bishops for their authentic and credible witnesses to our faith and their courage to defend the human rights of the people in Vietnam," said Fr. Paul Van Chi, of the Sydney Archdiocese in Australia.

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