Hanoi: Vietnamese lawmakers today approved a new version of the country`s constitution that upholds the ruling Communist Party`s dominant political and economic role.
"This is an historic moment," said Nguyen Sinh Hung, chairman of the National Assembly, after the charter was approved by 486 votes out of 488 deputies present, with two abstentions.
The amendments make minor tweaks to the constitution but crucially reaffirm the central role of the Communist Party -- which has been enshrined in the document since it was first approved in 1946.
But the process of amending the charter had raised hopes of real change after it was opened to public debate, sparking fierce discussion on topics usually taboo in the nation.
A group of leading academics in January submitted a petition calling for multiparty democracy, respect for human rights, private land ownership and an apolitical army that served the people not the party.
The main demand of the academics and many online commentators was for the abolition of Article 4, the clause that protects the party`s power, and for a clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
But that section has not been removed, according to a version of the constitution read out in parliament, although a final amended text was not available early today.
"The majority of opinions expressed during the consultation process agree the party should continue to play a leading role," said Uong Chu Luu, vice-chairman of the National Assembly, in a televised speech today.
Some 25 years after the party initiated market reforms, Vietnam is mired in an economic slowdown widely blamed on mismanagement.
In a bid to seem progressive, its rulers regularly ask for public input on policy issues.
Campaigners expressed cynicism over the practice.
"The call for consultation was a trap to lure opponents of the party out of the shadows," Nguyen Van Tam, a 48-year-old Catholic activist told AFP after the vote early today.
The party tightly controls public debate and routinely imprisons dissidents who question the political system or call for change.