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Friday, March 24, 2023

Vietnam's 1959 Constitution

Updated: 14:52’ - 31/03/2011

>>The 1946 Constitution of Vietnam

Pham Diem      
State and Law Research Institute

Following the victorious war of resistance against the French colonialists in 1954, North Vietnam was completely liberated, embarking on national reconstruction and advancing to socialism while the South fell under the US neo-colonialists’ domination.

Consequently, the Vietnamese people had to simultaneously perform two strategic tasks: the socialist construction in the North and the struggle against the US imperialists in the South for national salvation, liberation of remaining half of the country, the protection of the North and national reunification.

In the North, after the successful post-war economic restoration, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam State carried out a socialist transformation with nationalization in the field of commerce and industry and collectivization in the field of agriculture. By the late ‘50s, the economic, political and social life in the northern part of the country had seen profound changes with the existence of only two basic economic sectors: the State-run economy and the collective economy, and the existence of three social classes: the working class, the peasantry and the intelligentia. Meanwhile, the struggle for national reunification under the 1954 Geneva Agreements was seething high in the South.

In face of such new situation, the 1946 Constitution was no longer suitable and needed to be replaced by a new one. On January 23, 1957 at its sixth session, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam decided to set up the Constitution Amending Committee headed by President Ho Chi Minh. The plan on amendment of the Constitution was carried out through three steps:

- Step 1: Studying the 1946 Constitution, referring to the constitutions of the socialist countries and typical constitutions of a number of capitalist countries, drafting a new constitution.

- Step 2: Publicizing the draft constitution for comments by officials and commoners.

- Step 3: Finalizing the draft constitution for submission to the National Assembly for discussions and passage.

After the draft was finalized by the Constitution Amending Committee, it was put up for comments from National Assembly deputies, senior Government and Party officials, political parties, mass organizations and administrations at all levels from July 1 to September 30, 1958. The Committee studied 1,700 comments contributed by over 500 people, making adjustments and elaborating the second draft which was publicized on April 1, 1959 for comments by the entire population. In four consecutive months, millions of people from all walks of life discussed and commented on the draft before it was adjusted once more for submission to the National Assembly. Since its founding, the Constitution Amending Committee held 27 meetings.

On December 18, 1959 at its 11th session, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam voted to pass the new constitution with 100% of the present deputies (206) voting for it. On January 1, 1960, President Ho Chi Minh signed the order to promulgate the Constitution.

The 1959 Constitution was in essence a new constitution, the second one of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It contained the Preamble and 10 chapters with 112 articles.

Chapter I - The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which determined the institution and political regime of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Chapter II - The economic and social regimes.

Chapter III - Basic rights and obligations of citizens.

Chapter IV - The National Assembly.

Chapter V - The president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Chapter VI - The Government Council.

Chapter VII - The People’s Councils and the Administrative Committees of all levels.

Chapter VIII - The People’s Courts and the People’s Procuracies.

Chapter IX - The national flag, the national emblem and the capital city.

Chapter X -The amendment of the Constitution.    

As compared with the 1946 Constitution which had 70 articles arranged in 7 chapters, the 1959 Constitution had 112 articles arranged in 10 chapters, including 3 new chapters: The State President, the social and economic regimes, the national flag, national emblem and the capital city.

In its preamble, the new Constitution clearly stated the great victories of the revolution and the aims for the Vietnamese people to achieve in the new period. It also affirmed the then Vietnamese institution as well as political regime: “Ours is a people’s democratic state based on the worker-peasant alliance under the leadership of the working class.”

This had not been mentioned in the country’s first Constitution of 1946 as the situation following the August 1945 Revolution was very complicated and the young republic wished to rally all nationalist forces and people of all strata under the guiding principle of having more friends and less enemies.

The 1959 Constitution stated: “Vietnam is one country; the North and the South are inseparable from each other” (Article 1); “the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is a unified country where exist many nationalities which are equal in rights and obligations. The State has the duty to preserve and develop the unity among the nationalities” (Article 3); “all powers in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam belong to the people. The people use their powers through the National Assembly and the People’s Councils of all levels, which are elected by people and answerable to people. The National Assembly, the People’s Councils of all levels and other State power bodies observe the principle of democratic centralism” (Article 4), and “all State bodies must rely on the people, maintain close contacts with people, listen to the people’s ideas and submit to the people’s supervision.” (Article 6)

So, the political regime of people’s democratic republic mentioned in the 1946 Constitution was inherited, developed, supplemented and further specified by the 1959 Constitution.

Regarding the economic regime, the 1946 Constitution did not mention much about the economic field as the Vietnamese people then had to concentrate their might and main on the resistance war against the French colonialists. Meanwhile, the 1959 Constitution devoted a whole chapter to the economic regime as peace was restored in the North which started embarking on post-war national reconstruction and the period of transition to socialism. For the first time, it affirmed: “The State leads the economic activities under an uniform plan” (Article 10), and clearly identified the then economy characterized by two economic sectors - the State-run economy  and the cooperative economy - and two forms of ownership, the State ownership and the collective ownership; “the State-run economy belongs to the entire people’s ownership, playing the leading role in the national economy and being prioritized for development by the State” (Article 12)  while “the cooperative economy belongs to the laboring people’s collective ownership and the State particularly encourages, guides and helps the cooperative economy to thrive” (Article 13).

On the organization of the State apparatus, the 1959 Constitution inherited the 1946 Constitution’s principle that the powers in Vietnam belong to the people and that the State powers are gathered into the National Assembly.

Under the 1959 Constitution, the People’s Parliament was renamed the National Assembly and its Executive Board was renamed the Standing Committee with powers being clearly specified. The National Assembly set up different Committees, including the Law Committee, the Planning and Budget Committee, and other committees to assist the National Assembly and its Standing Committee. These Committees worked not  only during the National Assembly’s sessions but also when the National Assembly was in recess with functions to study matters assigned by the National Assembly, the National Assembly Standing Committee, the presidium of the National Assembly session, and also propose ideas to help the National Assembly handle affairs.

Regarding the State President, unlike the 1946 Constitution which dealt with the institution of the State President, who was the head of the State and the head of the Government, in the chapter on the Government, the 1959 Constitution devoted a full chapter to the State President who was then the head of the state and the head of the State apparatus. So, the 1959 Constitution enhanced the role and position of the State President with the following powers:

- To be the head of state, representing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the internal and external affairs.

- Based on the decisions of the National Assembly or its Standing Committee to promulgate laws, ordinances, to appoint the Prime Minister, Deputy- Prime Ministers and other members of the Government Council, promulgate amnesties, special amnesties, orders on general mobilization or limited mobilization or curfews, declare the state of war, ratify international agreements, appoint Vietnamese diplomatic representatives overseas.

- To command the armed forces and hold the position of the president of the National Defense Council.

- To attend and preside over meetings of the Government Council when deeming it necessary.

Under the 1959 Constitution, the highest executive body of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was the Government Council which was not only the highest State administrative organ as mentioned in the 1946 Constitution but also the executive body of the supreme State power body, namely the National Assembly, as clearly stated in its Article 71: “The Government Council is the executive body of  the supreme State power organ and the highest State administrative body of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Government Council is responsible for, and report on, its activities to the National Assembly or to the National Assembly Standing Committee when the National Assembly is in recess.” So, the regime of concentrated powers was enhanced in the 1959 Constitution. The Government Council was composed of the Prime Minister, Deputy-Prime Ministers, the ministers, the directors of the State Committees and the general director of the State Bank, but not vice-ministers as provided for in the 1946 Constitution.

The judicial bodies under the 1946 Constitution were courts only, but were courts and also procuracies under the 1959 Constitution. The system of adjudicating bodies prescribed by the new Constitution comprised the Supreme People’s Court, the local people’s courts, the military courts and special tribunals set up by the National Assembly in necessary cases. Its Article 104 provided that the Supreme People’s Court was responsible for, and report on, its activities before the National Assembly or the National Assembly Standing Committee when the National Assembly was in recess; the local people’s courts were responsible for, and report on, their activities before the local People’s Councils.

The system of procuracies comprised the Supreme People’s Procuracy, the local people’s procuracies and the military procuracies. Regarding their functions, Article 105 provided that the Supreme People’s Procuracy supervised the law observance by agencies under the Government Council, the local State agencies, the State employees and citizens; the local people’s procuracies and the military procuracies exercised the control in the law-prescribed scope. Under Articles 107 and 108, the Supreme People’s Procuracy was responsible for, and report on, its activities before the National Assembly or the National Assembly Standing Committee when the National Assembly was in recess; and the people’s procuracies of all levels submit to the leadership of the superior people’s procuracies and the uniform leadership of the Supreme People’s Procuracy.

On the local administrations, they were organized at four levels under the 1946 Constitution, but only at three levels under the new Constitution: the level of provinces and centrally-run cities; the level of districts, provincial towns and capitals; and the level of communes and district townships. The 1959 Constitution inherited the local administration models prescribed in the 1946 Constitution, i.e. the People’s Council and the Administrative Committee. It stipulated that the People’s Councils were established at all local administrative units and clearly determined that the Administrative Committees were not only the State administrative agencies in localities as provided for in the 1946 Constitution but also the executive bodies of the People’s Councils of the same levels.

On citizens’ basic rights and obligations: They were prescribed by the 1946 Constitution mainly in the social and economic domains. In the 1959 Constitution, the citizens’ rights and obligations were prescribed more adequately to have covered social, economic and political domains. Thereby, citizens had the obligations to observe the Constitution and laws, to respect and protect public properties, to pay taxes according to law provisions and to defend the Fatherland. At the same time, citizens were entitled to enjoy the right to equality before law, the right to vote and stand for elections, the right to equality between men and women, the right to freedom of speech, of press, meetings, association and demonstration, to freedom of belief, the inviolable rights to physical bodies, residence, mails, the right to freedom of residence and movement, the right to complaints and denunciations, the right to labor, rest, study,...

Panoramically, the 1959 Constitution was Vietnam’s Constitution for the period of struggling against US imperialists for national salvation and the period of transition to socialism in the North. It was not only the basic law to enhance and further consolidate the people’s democratic state in the North, but also a platform for uniting the entire Vietnamese nation in the struggle against the US imperialists for the liberation of the South and for national reunification. It was a new step of development in the constitutional history of Vietnam.-


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