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Edmund Malesky interviewed about Vietnam election legislation, citizens' voting behavior

The Duke Center for International Development director said voters have an influence on national political debates in an interview with südostasien.

Edmund Malesky, professor of political economy and director of the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), recently spoke with the German magazine südostasien about National Assembly elections in Vietnam.

"The government attaches great importance to elections," Malesky said in response to being asked the significance of elections to the National Assembly, which takes place every five years. "They are a very important opportunity for them to arouse interest in political events and to promote their own legitimacy through the demonstration of participation.

"In the scientific debate, there are two theories about elections in Vietnam: one says that elections are about information. Social scientists like to speak of the 'dictator'ilemma. This is the idea that it is very difficult for authoritarian regimes to obtain real information about how people think about their regime. They don't get them because people are afraid or because they don't want to lose any benefits. Information theory says that governments can use election results to learn whether they are popular or not. You can find out in which parts of the country there could be problems.

"Then there is a second point of view: the elections signalled the strength of the Communist Party of Vietnam (KPV). Candidates who have won, 80 percent of the votes have therefore really supported by the people. This is a sign of strength towards the citizens, but also a sign of strength for people who could challenge the regime. I do not believe in this argument, but it is found in the literature. I am more of the opinion that elections are about providing information."

When asked if elections in the one-party system can promote political responsiveness, Malesky replied: "Yes. I was really surprised that this is the case. I have conducted two different experiments with co-authors, Jason Todd and Anh Tran, with deputies from the National Assembly. First of all, we told them what the voters in their home province expect from them to debate on labour law in the meeting. We exposed the delegates to the voters who told them what to do and combined this with a second round, where they learned either about the competition in the elections or about central party mandate. I found that the delegates who had received the citizens' information more likely to use them than other Members were using a control group. In the second experiment, we learned that the elections are important. If one told the candidates about the elections and approval rates, this had a strikingly high impact. When they were informed, it was ten percent more likely that they would speak out, that they were more likely to represent the interests of the citizens and that the MPs were doing more for them in the debate. That was really surprising to me."

südostasien brings together voices from and about Southeast Asia on current developments in politics, economy, ecology, society and culture. Contributions about the region and the countries of Southeast Asia as well as their global/international relations are published on four focal points a year.

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Image: The building of the National Assembly in Hanoi. Simon Kaack