Whichever side comes out of this week on top, it seems that a new dynamic has emerged that should be unsettling to single-party or ideologically controlled autocratic states everywhere. Iran has an electoral system that is similar in some respects to China’s or Vietnam’s. Elections are held periodically, but the lists of candidates are carefully vetted by the real controlling power structure — in Vietnam or China’s case, the Communist Party; in Iran’s case, the clergy — to ensure ideological compliance and loyalty.
Moussavi passed through this system of ideological control; he’s no radical reformer. But what’s happened is that simply by representing an alternative, Moussavi became a vehicle for the expression of the hopes of people who are far more radical in their reformist attitudes than anyone in the dominant power structure. Even though the players in the Iranian elections were all screened for their personal views, the simple fact of an election became a forum in which radical and unacceptable political views could express themselves and ultimately co-opt one of the candidates.
It’s impossible to imagine anything similar on such a scale happening in Vietnam. There are no popular elections for top leadership, and politics in Vietnam today is so much less personalistic than in Iran that no ideology ever crystallizes around one political figure. But this kind of dynamic is surely part of why the Party is worried about the consequences of extending direct elections on a local basis.
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