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Friday, 22 January 2016 09:29
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Viewpoints on public debate mechanisms

(LLCT) - Public debate is meant to enable different classes of society to practice their rights to mastership including freedoms to voice their opinions on activities by authorized people and to evaluate such activities. Democracy as a cultural value established on humanitarian and legal bases does not just stop at ideas, aspirations, concepts and wills but also needs to be expressed through action and ensured with mechanisms and laws.

On theoretical and practical grounds, viewpoints on public debate mechanisms in Vietnam have taken shape.

1. Public debate must reflect the democratic nature of the Vietnamese society

Public debate is meant to enable different classes of society to practice their rights to mastership including freedoms to voice their opinions on activities by authorized people and to evaluate such activities. Democracy as a cultural value established on humanitarian and legal bases does not just stop at ideas, aspirations, concepts and wills but also needs to be expressed through action and ensured with mechanisms and laws. Public debate is direct expression of democracy in the Vietnamese society. It takes place when people are allowed to give feedback on national leadership, management and administration related to their past, present and future interests and their families’.

Thus, public debate is an objective necessity of a progressive, democratic society. It originates from people’s legitimate interests and is held by people so that it brings them back benefits. In such cycle, people are the sole debaters. They will be responsible for any negative consequences if their debate does not go well. What they gain through debating depends on their sense of responsibility and autonomy. Mechanisms for public debate must ensure the democratic nature of the country’s political regime and society, i.e. involving as many participants with high responsibility and social competence as possible. Such participants need to have a strong sense of self-discipline and debate for nobody else’s but their own interests.

2. Public debate must be a condition for the Party to exercise its leadership and the State to carry out its management   

The CPV is not only of a class but also a national character. Its strength does not only come from classes but also from the nation. The Party has been in close touch with people since its inception. Its objective has been to serve people. It is willing to be subject to public supervision. Over the last century, people have maintained close relationship with the Party and have protected and trusted it. They have helped it to overcome its challenges or dangers and have been supportive whenever it makes mistakes. They have contributed to the Party’s glorious triumph. Nowadays, through debating, people have had the chance to uphold the tradition of strengthening and protecting the Party so it will not make mistakes or become overly subjective, unrealistic or bureaucratic. In order to accomplish its historic mission of leading the country, the Party needs to rely on people’s support and help extended through their debate. This is to enhance its leadership capacity and fighting spirit. This is a way for the Party to stay eternally close to the public. Therefore, public debate must be of constructive significance to the Party.

The Vietnamese State is a democratic one in nature. It represents people’s rights and is elected and authorized by people to manage the country and serve their interests. A servant state is substantially different from a ruling one in terms of its relationship with the public. In the Vietnamese society, if “people are masters, then the government are servants... However, when people have the servants work for them, they must help with their job. If the government is wrong, they need to criticize, not condemn them”(1). In case “the government does harm to people, they have the right to dismiss it”(2). Thus, there is a practical, inseparable relationship among the State, government and people because their interests are intertwined. Given such motivation, public debate never implies opposition to, or resistance against the State. Debate allows people to exercise their mastership over the State and the State to serve people better, accomplish their servant role and avoid mistakes or shortcomings.

3. Public debate mechanisms must ensure extensive participation and be diverse and flexible 

There are many forces in society taking part in debate. Each of the forces has its own way or tool for such debate, resulting in different debate outcomes. It is impossible and unadvisable to use a particular force’s way or tool for other forces. When a policy targets a social group, it is that group who will debate such policy using a variety of ways, methods or tools depending on their spatial and temporal conditions. Flexibility is one of the characteristics of social consultation because once flexible, such consultation becomes more effective. This point of view shows respect for the effectiveness of social consultation rather than its form, attaching importance to its objectives. Giving feedback or recommendation should not be the only way of consultation although this is still important and needs improving. Others ways of consultation such as comments, observations, evaluations, questioning, discussions and dialogues should take place on forums, at research institutes, in conferences, on the media and in written forms.

4. Public debate must always respect different opinions which are not contrary to the nation’s shared interests        

Because public debate is of a social character, covers a wide range of areas and involves a variety of independent yet interconnected participants and because society is constantly changing, there are a lot of different opinions in such debate. When discussing a particular issue, given their social statuses, interests, space and time, people have different ways to voice their opinions. Differing, even opposite, points of view need to be seriously

and fully respected and appreciated. Respecting different views which are not contrary to the nation’s common interests is a profound change in the practice of democracy in Vietnam. Such views, regardless of the class, ethnic origin, social status, occupation, past and geographical region of people who hold them, are appreciable especially when they are different from those already existing in management or leadership bodies’ plans. Respecting such views is a measure of the ability, mettle and political responsibility of such bodies. It also shows how close they are to the public, how much they respect them, what their sense of service is and what their behavior to them is. On the opposite extreme are detestation, bias, prejudice and negative reaction against those holding different views. No matter how different they are, such views should be respected if they are not contrary to the nation’s interests. On the other hand, if they are against the country’s shared interests, they should be criticized or dismissed. According to that principle, there is no room for ambiguity, misperception or confusion. Applying the principle to public debate mechanisms is no simple job because it requires management or leadership bodies of a strong political mettle, professional ability, intellectual capacity and tact.    

It is necessary to eradicate perfunctory reception of differing views. This is because after going through this process, information is often reduced to what higher level authorities want to hear instead of what they need to hear in order to improve their management or leadership performance. Perfunctoriness will under-mine the correctness of public debate. If leaders and managers only rely on such twisted information, it is likely that they will make policies which do not reflect truly realities or which do not win public support.

It is also necessary to prevent other negative practices including reluctant reception of differing views and taking no action upon reception of such views.

Attitudes towards views different from those held by people in leadership and management positions are varied and almost unpredictable. Only when these people genuinely listen to such views and have a strong sense of public service, can they adopt a proper attitude towards such views and respect them.

5. Any public debate must conform to the law, comply with the provisions of law and be protected by it

The Vietnamese law reflects people’s will, protect their right and regulate their duties. When it comes to public service, the law and public debate have the same objective. Therefore, for public debate to fulfill its objective, it must be in conformity with the law. In a law-ruled State, the law is considered to be of utmost importance. People are allowed to do whatever the law does not prohibit, which means they cannot do whatever the law prohibits. Only when these aspects are taken into consideration, can the law be effectively enforced, people’s interests be protected and the objectives of the law and public debate be fulfilled.

The law must provide all necessary legal bases for public debate to function the best. At the same time, it must ensure equality for participants in such debate. To that end, the law must establish a legal framework which stipulates fundamental standards of public debate and maintains social order. The law should also assign responsibilities to debaters and regulate the relationship between subjects and objects of such debate. Public debate will not be effective unless it is in conformity with the law. Thus, the development of public debate mechanisms cannot take place without the participation of legislative, law-enfor-cement and justice bodies.

6. Public debate must be neutral, truthful and morally guided   

The above-mentioned points of view cannot be realistic if each member of the public no matter what social status he or she is and leadership and management bodies are not objective, honest or morally guided. Once selfish individualism overshadows a person and stains his or her mind, it will undermine his or her objectivity and honesty, leading to negative practices detrimental to the good nature of democracy. Then public debate will become a perfunctory practice or even a tool for seeking group or individual interests.

Whether public debate can be effective and whether its positive effects can be felt depend on debaters’ qualities and abilities. In Vietnamese history there have been valuable lessons in listening to people’s voices. During different royal dynasties there were lessons in inspecting or controlling power. Those kings who were kind-hearted, righteous, popular and well written about were those who loved their subjects and would listen to their recommendations and would actively look for talented people. Despite the ups and downs in the millennia-old history of the country, patriotic, righteous, honest, moral and fair Vietnamese have always been its source of support. Therefore, the nation has managed to survive and grow. Nowadays, research into public debate mechanisms must necessarily emphasize objectivity, honesty and morality and other fine characteristics of the nation so as to establish a modern yet traditional Vietnamese democracy.

The above-mentioned points of view are interrelated. When looked at as a system, they can be used a reference point from where necessary public debate me-chanisms are built according to guidelines laid down by the Party at its 10th Congress.


Assoc. Prof., Dr. Tran Hau

Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front


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