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Vietnamese recall historic ballot on 70th anniversary

Update: January, 03/2016 - 05:28

Citizens share stories of patriotism, hardships from first general election

Do Thi Dan, 90, of HCM City's Binh Thanh District, a home-based nun

The first general election took place when I was 20 years old. To me, the event was something truly new, something I never heard before. It was once in a blue moon.

Although I was of the age to vote, I didn't try to go to the voting station to exercise this sacred right. Honestly speaking, I can't remember if I voted for the first time in my life or whether other evacuees from the war did that for me. It was 70 years ago, not seven years ago!

I heard about the general election through word of mouth. At that time, the general election was more important to intellectuals or revolutionary soldiers.

People like me, despite being patriotic, put our safety and security of our families as our first priority, given our suffering from not having basic needs met because of the severely insufficient conditions. I did not have a second thought about acting on this human right, despite our harsh life.

Carrying my first two-year son on my back, I had to evacuate to Ha Dong, a former capital city of Ha Tay Province, an urban district in Ha Noi today, to escape from the falling bombs and shells from 1944 - 1947.

It wasn't until 1948 that I returned to Ha Noi and lived in Hang Muoi Street, earning a hand-to-mouth living by carrying bricks and knitting.

Now, whenever I think about that era, and see my current big family, I find that I was lucky that I survived by an inch.

I moved to Sai Gon in 1955. I have been living as a strict home-based nun for more than 50 years: I eat vegetarian food and feel serene in my everyday prayers to the Buddha.

I live independently from many relatives in HCM City. I've returned to Ha Noi many times, even in my 80s.

Sometimes I go to Binh Tay Market in District 5 to sell my handmade knitted clothes, not to earn a living as I did 70 years ago, but just to recall my memories.

Tran Thi Ha Tung, 68, of HCM City's Phu Nhuan District, history teacher

I was not born during the first general election, but as a teacher of history since 1972, I have read and researched quite deeply about this historic event.

I am aware that the election 70 years ago was an event of great significance because for the first time in Viet Nam's history the Vietnamese had the right to vote after 900 years of being ruled by the Chinese and nearly 100 years of being a French colony. This showed a high level of democracy.

The event marked the first time the Vietnamese people elected their own legislative body.

This event stamped a mark on Viet Nam's history, electing 333 deputies to the National Assembly from different classes and ethnic minority groups of Viet Nam.

The event not only demonstrated the strength of the entire people's unity but also showed the prestige and status of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in the international arena.

When I teach my students about the first general election, I notice almost all my students are confused about the meaning of "universal suffrage". I have to spend time explaining that it means every citizen who is 18 years old or above and has not committed a crime can be a voter, regardless of their gender, class or social status.

Although the country was in a harsh situation as enemies were trying to sabotage the election, nearly 90 per cent of the voters were able to vote (the voting rate in the cities was higher than in the countryside).

This was due mostly to the prestige of President Ho Chi Minh who devoted his life to the national revolutionary cause.

The general election affirmed the Vietnamese people's territorial sovereignty. This great success, together with the adoption of the Constitution in 1946, opened up a new era in Viet Nam in which the country had a unified National Assembly and government as well as a legal administrative system.

Professor Dr Mach Quang Thang, 62, lecturer at Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration

Viet Nam's first ever general election on January 6, 1946 to elect the National Assembly members was a significant milestone in the nation's history, marking an outstanding advancement for a democratic institution and opening up a new development stage for the nation.

This was the first time in history the nation had become an independent country with a State body legally representing the people's will, desire and right to mastery, deciding the country's important issues on behalf of the people.

For the past 70 years and 13 terms, the NA has unceasingly upheld the role and position as the people's highest representative agency and the nation's most powerful State agency.

The general election has proven the high intellectual capacity of Ho Chi Minh, then the President of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the soul of the success of Viet Nam's revolutionary cause.

In combat zones in the South, South Central and the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, elections took place in fierce circumstances, even with bloodshed, to exercise the democratic rights of every Vietnamese citizen.

Amazingly, the election turnouts were great, with 89 per cent of voters in 71 provinces and cities going to the polls. As many as 333 deputies were elected, of whom 57 per cent belonged to different political parties. Ten were female and 34 were ethnic minorities. A large number of people stood for the elections. In Ha Noi alone, six deputies were elected among 74 candidates.

I think the success of the first general election was mainly due to the Vietnamese people's political enlightenment and the unified efforts of all the country, from the central government to localities. But the most important factor was the people's trust in the Party and President Ho Chi Minh.

I believe that the NA should further enhance its close relationship with the people, promptly deal with issues of people's concerns, continue reforming its organisation and activities, and build a strong socialist law-governed State.

Today I have a lot of expectations for National Assembly deputies.

In order to choose the best deputies, it is vital is to ensure transparency and democracy in the NA election in accordance with the first general election 70 years ago.

Deputies must try their best to fulfill their responsibility to serve the people. They should be a "faithful servant" for the people and never do something against the benefits and interest of the people.

The most important thing is that the deputies must be deeply aware of the country's current most critical issue, its sovereignty of land and sea, and thus act accordingly as a National Assembly deputy. — VNS

Despite foreign occupation, wars, poverty and a high rate of illiteracy at the time, Viet Nam's first general election was organised successfully with strong support from the people. Van Dat and Xuan Hiep report.

Though Nguyen Thi Xuan Phuong, 87, was not eligible to vote or run in the national election 70 years ago, she has never forgotten the excitement on everyone's face on January 6 in 1946 when they realised they could exercise their right to vote.

She was 17 years old when the election was held.

As a member of the National Salvation Student Group, Phuong and her compatriots were responsible for campaigning for the election and supporting voters.

"I was asked to join the campaign. After writing an article about the election, my companions and I took turns to stand on a podium to speak loudly through a bullhorn," Phuong said.

The eyes of the former student at Khai Dinh High School in Hue lit up when she recalled the events that led to the election.

She said she travelled to Huong Tra, Huong Thuy and other districts in Hue to inform people about the general election.

At the time, although the illiteracy rate in the country was still high, this did not prevent people from choosing to vote after years of being dominated by foreigners.

Phuong said she helped illiterate voters by reading the voting materials and telling them about the candidates' backgrounds and views.

The voters who could not read or write used a pen to leave a mark or fingerprint next to the names of the NA nominees.

Many people closed their shops to participate in the election.

"Several people had to walk more than 10 kilometres to reach the voting stations. My parents were in Phan Thiet at the time. All of my family members voted. My grandmother, who had to walk with a stick, was happy to go voting," Phuong said.

The historic election was organised during the most difficult period of the country.

Besides widespread illiteracy and poverty, the French in Viet Nam's central and south-central regions expanded the war, hoping to reoccupy the country.

They intended to undermine the general election and seize control. But the Vietnamese people showed their strong faith in the patriotic representatives of the Viet Nam Independence League.

Patriotism erupts

Historian Nguyen Nha, who was seven years old when the election was organised, described the people's support of the event as "an eruption of patriotism".

After years of being under French rule, the people were happy to have the right to decide the country's future, Nha said.

The election marked the first breakthrough in Viet Nam's democratic structure.

During World War II, the Japanese had occupied Viet Nam, while the French had lost a great deal of prestige. However, after the Japanese lost the war and left, the French moved to consolidate power.

When the French returned, the people were more determined to express their patriotism and fight them, according to Nha.

"The election organised after the success of the August Revolution played a very important role in opening a new independent period for the country," Nha said.

The historical value of the country's first general election was immeasurable, Nha said.

Women granted rights

During the first general election, almost 90 per cent of eligible voters nationwide went to the polls to elect 333 representatives, of which 57 percent were members of various parties and 43 per cent were inddependent members.

They included members of all religions, ethnic groups and political parties.

The strong support of people for the election was also reflected in the high number of people in the country who nominated themselves as candidates to run for one of the 333 available representative positions. In Ha Noi, for example, a total of 74 people nominated themselves for one of six positions representing the city.

Women were also given the right to vote and run for election, a decision made by President Ho Chi Minh to further national unity.

Allowing women to participate not only represented democratic policy but also the long-lasting tradition of Viet Nam, Nha said, pointing out that at one time the famous Trung sisters ruled the country.

Another veteran of the national election in 1946, Pham Hoc Lam, was once deputy governor of the State Bank of Viet Nam.

Interviewed recently at his home, Lam said he was asked to be secretary for the election board in Bac Lieu Province.

"I was very impressed upon seeing a woman running for election. She later became one of 10 female members of the National Assembly and one of three female representatives from the Southern region," he said.

"For example, I remember that no one knew Ngo Thi Hue before she ran for election. But after finding out that she was a female revolutionary, most people wanted to vote for her. Later, I knew that she got a very high percentage of the vote," Lam said.

Hue, the wife of former Party General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, received support from many female voters who were farmers and peddlers, with the expectation that she would advance the role of women in politics and protect the country.

"After the election, I heard that some female deputies told each other that they were given rights equal to men to build the country and fight against foreign enemies," Lam added.

Veteran revolutionary Ngo Thi Hue, 98, is now living in HCM City.

Writing in her autobiography published this year, she tells of her family's poverty-stricken situation, which forced her, together with her relatives and others, to become a revolutionary who hoped to obtain independence for the country.

She was captured twice before the election was organised.

"I was tortured various ways, including electrical shocks placed on sensitive places on my body, and beatings while hanging upside down. Several times, I was hospitalised and was near death," Hue wrote in her autobiography Tieng Song Bua Ghenh.

Liberation from colonialism was the main reason the Vietnamese people were excited about the success of the August Revolution and the first election.

The general election and the role that it played in the country by emphasising the Vietnamese desire for independence influenced the country's victories in later years against the French and Americans. — VNS

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