Political Authority in Vietnam: Is the Vietnamese Communist Party a Paper Leviathan?

Adam Fforde, Lada Homutova


In a contribution to the political analysis of contemporary Vietnam – a single-party state often wrongly assumed to be an author of reform and deploying considerable and varied powers – this paper seeks to provide an understanding of the Vietnamese term ‘authority’ (uy) and its relationship to power. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan serves as a reference to the notion of authority in Vietnam and is compared to data: what the Vietnamese thought their word best translated as authority meant. The paper concludes that in the ‘two-way street’ of social contracts, the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) actually has little authority. This helps to explain the chronic problems the VCP has faced in securing state capacity and generalised ability to implement policy. It high-lights gaps between the current anachronistic use of Soviet-style power in Vietnam and what could be done if the regime deployed new powers based on authority. The authors conclude that, given the identified lack of authority, the VCP is no real Leviathan. Although more research is needed, this conclusion implies that proactive political tactics in Vietnam may move towards a search for acquiring authority in a ‘two-way street’ relationship within the Vietnamese political community. Enhanced state capacity and Party authority could follow.

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