July 6, 2010
Vietnam’s gravy train derailed
By The Hanoist
Exposing a growing rift in Vietnam’s one-party regime, the communist-controlled National Assembly has rejected the government’s US$56 billion plan to develop a high speed north-south railway. The project, set to cost 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and based on Japan’s cutting-edge Shinkansen technology, would have cut overland travel time from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (1,760 kilometers) from about two days to around six hours.
The government has recently initiated several mega-projects, but this one was surprisingly voted down by the assembly by a 178-157 vote on June 19. The unprecedented result does not mean that Vietnam’s legislature, traditionally a rubber stamp for Communist Party decisions, is evolving into an independent branch of government.
The National Assembly consists almost entirely of Communist Party members with just a few token independents. Convening for several weeks twice a year, its members tend to lack the expertise and attention to play an active political role. According to one well-placed source, the party’s 14-member politburo, the de facto highest power, declined to express a position on the railway project and passed the issue to the assembly instead. Continue reading