National Assembly deputies vote for the Draft Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (amended). Photo: VNA
On 2 September 1945, President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the birth of Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the first people's democratic state in Southeast Asia. Amid innumerable difficulties of the early days of independence, the Provisional Government led by President Ho Chi Minh firmly steered the revolution, successfully held the general elections to the National Assembly, 1st Legislature on 6 January 1946. Seventy years have passed since the historic date, the National Assembly has always accompanied the nation, the entire Party, people and army in the struggle for national liberation, unification and renewal and to bring the country to socialism.
During the 70 year journey of history, the National Assembly passed 5 Constitutions, which are the 1946, the 1959, the 1980, the 1992 and the 2013 Constitutions. Each Constitution marks a stage of construction and development of the revolutionary State of Viet Nam, institutionalizing the lines of the Communist Party of Viet Nam for each development phase as the basis for the completion of the legal system and building Viet Nam’s rule of law socialist state of the people, by the people and for the people.
The 1946 Constitution, the first in the constitutional history of the Vietnamese State, the Constitution of the people's democratic revolution, resistance war and national construction
On 3 September 1945, at the first meeting of the Provisional Government, President Ho Chi Minh raised the necessity to build a democratic constitution for the new Viet Nam. After more than a year of active preparations, on 9 January 1946, at the 2nd session, the National Assembly, 1st Legislature adopted the first Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the 1946 Constitution.
The 1946 Constitution is crystallized fruits of the August 1945 Revolution, the legal declaration of people’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. It was “the first Constitution in the history of our country…, a historical vestige of the first constitution in Asia…, the Constitution declared to the world that Viet Nam is an independent country ..., the people of Viet Nam have all the freedom..., Vietnamese woman are equal to man to enjoy all the rights and freedoms of a citizen. The Constitution promoted the close solidarity between the nationalities of Viet Nam in a spirit of integrity, and equity of classes.”(1)
The 1946 Constitution included the Preamble, seven chapters and 70 articles, which defined the mission of our people, including preserving our national territory, seizing complete independence and national reconstruction on a democratic platform. The 1946 Constitution was elaborated on the following three principles: national unity, irrespective of races, sexes, social classes and religions, ensuring democratic freedoms and building a strong and clear-sighted administration of the people. Article 1 of the Constitution stipulated: “Viet Nam is a democratic republic. All powers in the country belong to the entire people of Viet Nam regardless of their races, sexes, economic conditions, social classes, religions.” Next, the Constitution defined: citizens of Viet Nam are entitled to enjoy the right to equality before the law in political, economic and cultural domains, and can participate in the administration and national construction depending on their talents and virtues. With these regulations, the 1946 Constitution confirmed the presence of a people's democratic state in Viet Nam's history; and for the first time the right to freedom of speech, of press, freedom of meetings, association, to freedom of belief, freedom of residence and movement within the country and abroad were recognized by the Constitution.
From 1947 to the end of December 1959, based on the fundamental principles of the Constitution, the National Assembly, the Government and the National Assembly Standing Committee promulgated 14 laws and hundreds of decrees to manage the country during the resistance war and national construction. It can be said, the process of building the constitution and legislation of the National Assembly during this period created the legal basis for the formation of the legal system of the new Viet Nam, a legal system aimed at equity, equality, democracy and progress, approaching the noble ideals of humanity on independence, freedom, equality, and fraternity.
The 1959 Constitution, the Constitution of the period of construction of socialism in the North, and liberation struggle for reunification in the South
After the victory of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the North embarked on building socialism, the South continued the struggle to complete the people’s democratic revolution. The changes in the political tasks of the two regions did not support the implementation of the 1946 Constitution on a national scale. So, at its 6th session in 1957, the National Assembly, 1st legislation decided to amend the 1946 Constitution to suit the new situation and tasks of the Vietnamese revolution. After more than two years of preparations, on 31 December 1959, at the 11th session, the National Assembly unanimously passed the 1959 Constitution and on 1 January 1960, President Ho Chi Minh signed a decree promulgating the Constitution.
The 1959 Constitution consisted of the Preamble, 10 chapters and 112 articles. The Constitution stated: “Viet Nam is one country; the North and the South are inseparable from each other.”(Article 1); “The Democratic Republic of Viet Nam... is a people’s democratic country.” (Article 2). The Constitution stipulated the political, socio-economic regime, equal relationship, and mutual assistance between nationalities, responsibilities and powers of state bodies, rights and obligations of citizens to bring into play tremendous creativity of the people in the cause of building socialism in the North, and liberation of the South for national unification.
The 1959 Constitution was the first socialist Constitution of Viet Nam, inheriting and building upon the 1946 Constitution in line with the new phase of Viet Nam’s revolution. With the 1959 Constitution, the National Assembly created the legal basis for the construction of the legal system of the period of transition to socialism in the North. On the basis of the provisions of the Constitution, from 1959 to 1980, the National Assembly enacted 9 laws, and the Standing Committee of the National Assembly enacted 21 ordinances. The legislations enacted by the National Assembly in this period primarily focused on strengthening the organization and operation of the state apparatus, including the Law on Organization of the National Assembly, the Law on Organization of the Government Council, the Law on Organization of the People's Court, the Law on Organization of the People's Procuracy, the Law on Organization of the People's Councils and Administrative Committees at all levels; the ordinances mainly concretized areas of activity of the state apparatus and punishment of dangerous criminals, such as violations of national security, infringement upon socialist property, and bribery. The introduction of these laws and ordinances guaranteed the effect of the Constitution, showing new developments in the legislative activities of the National Assembly of Viet Nam, meeting the requirements of state management, and social management during this period.
The 1980 Constitution, the Constitution of the period of national reunification, and transition to socialism of whole the country
The historic victory in Spring 1975 opened a new stage of development in national history. The South was completely liberated; the people’s democratic revolution was fulfilled throughout the country. Viet Nam became completely independent, free, reunified, and the country transited to socialism. As such, once again, the National Assembly again undertook significant historic task to prepare a constitution for the country’s new stage of development. On 18 December 1980, at the 7th session, the National Assembly, 6th Legislature unanimously passed the 1980 Constitution.
The 1980 Constitution consisted of the Preamble, 12 chapters and 147 articles, stipulating the political, economic, cultural, and social regime, citizens’ fundamental rights and obligations, the organizational structure and operation principles of the state bodies. The Constitution demonstrated the relationship between the Party leadership, the people’s mastery and the state management in Viet Nam, reflecting the transitional period to socialism throughout the country, and creating the legal basis for the formulation and development of the legal system of Viet Nam.
Concretizing the Constitution, from 1980 to 1992, the National Assembly enacted 41 laws, and the State Council issued 60 ordinances regulating the organization and operation of the state apparatus and social relations. Especially, since the country carried out the renovation (1986), the National Assembly twice amended and supplemented the Constitution: revision of the Preamble in the 4th session (December 1988) and revision and supplement to some articles in the 5th session (June 1989) (2). The National Assembly promulgated many laws in the economic domain, such as the Law on Land, the Law on Foreign Investment in Viet Nam, the Tax Law, and the Law on Company, the Law on Private Enterprises, Viet Nam Maritime Code, and the Law on Civil Aviation of Viet Nam. The State Council issued ordinances to regulate economic, social, foreign policy, civil and criminal domains. With tireless efforts of the National Assembly, the agencies of the National Assembly, the Government and concerned agencies and organizations, Viet Nam’s legal system was formed, gradually establishing a legal framework for economic development, renewing the organization and operation of the state apparatus, and laying the foundation for building the rule of law socialist Viet Nam.
The 1992 Constitution, the Constitution of the early stage of national renewal
In 1992, the country's renewal process initiated and led by Viet Nam Communist Party achieved important initial achievements, while posing several theoretical and practical problems which need thorough and synchronous solutions. Therefore, the National Assembly decided to amend the 1980 Constitution in order to meet the requirements of the new situation and tasks. On 15 April 1992, after more than two years of preparations, the National Assembly passed the 1992 Constitution, the Constitution of the first stage of national renewal.
The 1992 Constitution included the Preamble, 12 chapters and 147 articles, regulating the political, economic, cultural, social regimes, defense, security, citizens’ fundamental rights and obligations, structure, principles of organization and activities of state bodies, institutionalization of the relationship between the Party leadership, the people’s mastery, and the State management.
Promulgated in the early stage of the renewal process, the 1992 Constitution was an important political and legal basis for expediting comprehensive renovation. With the 1992 Constitution, the National Assembly wrote down in the constitutional history the initial results of the renovation, the orientations to improve organization and operation of the state apparatus and establish new economic management mechanism, liberate productive forces, pave the way for strong economic development, and contribute to strengthening national defense, security, foreign affairs, and international economic integration.
At the 10th session on 25 December 2001, the National Assembly adopted a resolution on amending and supplementing some articles of the 1992 Constitution, creating an important legal basis for the continued reform of the political system, completion of the organizational structure of the state apparatus, promotion of democracy, and building of a law-governed socialist Viet Nam. For the first time, the basic principles of business freedom of organizations and individuals were prescribed in the Constitution: “Organizations and individuals of all economic sectors can engage in production and businesses in branches and occupations which are not prohibited by law” (Article 16).
The National Assembly, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly took time, efforts and wisdom to consider, and adopt a variety of laws, ordinances and resolutions, focusing on urgent issues in socio-economic domains, religion education, training, science and technology, defense, security, and organization of state apparatus. They included the Law on Organization of the National Assembly the Law on the Organization of the Government, the Law on the Organization of People's Courts, the Law on the Organization of People's Procuracy, the Law on Enterprises, the Law on Value Added Tax, the Law on Special Consumption Tax, the Law on Encouraging Domestic Investment, the Law on Investment, the Law on Education, the Law on Science and Technology, the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, the Law on Complaints and Denunciations, the Law on Drug Prevention and Fight, the Ordinance against Corruption, the Ordinance on Thrift Practice and Waste Prevention, the Ordinance on Lawyers, among others in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, Viet Nam’s legal system has basically been formed to regulate socio-economic relations and ensure national defense, security and international integration.
The 2013 Constitution, the Constitution of the period when Viet Nam accelerates the comprehensive renewal process, national construction, defense, and international integration
After 20 years of implementing the 1992 Constitution, Viet Nam has made great achievements of historical significance. Amid great, profound and complicated developments in the international situation, the Platform for National Construction in the Transitional Period to Socialism (supplemented and developed in 2011) and other documents of the 11th Party Congress identified targets, and orientations of comprehensive and sustainable development, in the new revolutionary stage to build the socialist Viet Nam into a strong country with prosperous people, democracy, equity and civilization. At the 1st session in August 2011, the National Assembly, 13th Legislature decided to amend the 1992 Constitution. After more than two years of preparations, on 28-November 2013, with the absolute majority (486/488 National Assembly deputies voted for, representing 97.59%), the National Assembly adopted the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.
The 2013 Constitution inherits and builds upon the core values, and the foundation of the 1946, 1959, 1980 and 1992 Constitutions. Fully aware of the profound significance of the Constitutions, the role of the people in the development of the Constitution, the National Assembly, the National Assembly agencies, National Assembly deputies worked devotedly, with scientific spirit, listening, understanding, selecting the essence of wisdom of the entire Party, people and army, and our compatriots at home and overseas to finalize the Constitution.
The Constitution manifests “the Party’s will, the people's hearts”, confirming the leadership of Communist Party of Viet Nam over the state and society, while demonstrating the confidence, the will and aspirations of the majority of people to the Party, requesting all Party organizations and individual members to be closely connected with the people, serve the people under the supervision of the people, be accountable before the people and work within the framework of the Constitution and law.
The Constitution upholds human rights, citizens’ fundamental rights and obligations, promotes the role of the people as masters in the construction and improvement of state apparatus, and exercises political, civil, economic, cultural, social, defense, security and foreign affairs rights.
The Constitution confirms the legislative, executive and judicial rights, defines the basic principles to renovate and improve the state apparatus, ensures the assignment, coordination and control of power between state bodies; assigns authority and responsibilities to the National Assembly, the State President, the Government, the People's Court, People's Procuracy, and the local administrations in the country’s governance.
Given the above basic contents, the 2013 Constitution is the Constitution of the comprehensive renovation period, synchronizing economic and political domains, meeting the requirements of national construction, defense and international integration.
Implementing the Constitution, the National Assembly, the Government, levels, branches, agencies and organizations in the political system have jointly taken more drastic measures to ensure the observation of the Constitution while stepping up widespread dissemination of the Constitution among the public to guarantee that the Constitution is strictly adhered to and abided by. During the 2 years since the Constitution was adopted, 64 laws were enacted by the National Assembly, covering socio-economic aspects. By now, it is possible to confirm that the National Assembly, 13th legislature has fulfilled its responsibilities, namely promulgation of the 2013 Constitution and institutionalization of the Constitution into laws on the organization the state apparatus, defense of justice, human rights, citizenship, perfection of the socialist-oriented market economy, consolidation of national defense, security, social law and order, social safety, social security, environmental protection, foreign relations and international integration.
Seventy years of formation and development of Viet Nam's National Assembly is also 70 years of constitutional history. The National Assembly has enacted 5 Constitutions, 5 milestones marking the glorious historical journey of the people of Viet Nam in their struggle for independence, freedom and reunification of the country and in the renovation, and national construction. Each process of constitutional development is an occasion to look back and assess the work done, select, inherit and develop values for national construction in the next stage. Each process of constitutional development created positive social effects, attracting the participation and support of the people and soldiers throughout the country, our compatriots abroad, becoming a broad political and legislative undertaking. Each time the constitutional development required renewal in the way of thinking, organization and operation of all sectors in the political system to meet the requirements of national development and aspiration of the people.
(1) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, The National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 1995, Vol. 4, p. 440
(2) Adding the right of citizens to stand for the National Assembly and establishing the Permanent Council in the People's Councils in centrally-run provinces and cities, districts, towns and provincially-run cities and at the same time reinforcing the activities of the People's Councils, and People's Committees
This article was published on Communist Review, No 879 (January 2016)