Economic and Political Reform in the Third World Nations

By Mr. Nguyễn Trần Bạt

Hanoi, Vietnam


Since the end of the Second World War, international political arena has gone through many evolutions. Absorbing progressive ideologies of the new era, many political parties have led their people to national independence, replacing the draconian colonial regimes with popular ones. People in the poverty - stricken third world countries dream of a great new life and of living in a society wealthy in material terms and spiritually healthy. But to date everything remains out of reach and the third world is still a group of ill-fated poor nations. The first cause of this plight is the loss of orientation amongst the Cold War’s whirlwind. But the main reason lies in the failure to comprehend or to find solutions to social reform and innovation. In many third world nations, dedicated politicians and intellects are busy looking for the right mode of social reform in a hope to take their homeland to the rank of developed countries. However, very few successes are recorded. From the status of progressive forces in the society’s development, many political regimes have become obstacles and they are contributing to widening the gap between rich and poor nations. Innovation and reform in the third world have, more than ever in history, become urgent. development, ranks of h d solutions to social reform Without serious consideration and appropriate innovation strategies, it is highly likely that many third world nations will become outcast late travelers in the human development process.



Reform is necessary in correcting mistakes or weeding out obsolete factors, which will create the new driving force and opportunities for development. Nowadays, reform is popular simply because every facets in modern life (education, administration, laws, salary, religions etc.) can and should be reformed. However, all kinds of reform can be grouped into 3 main categories: Political, economic, and cultural ones. A comprehensive and radical reform that can bring about qualitative changes in the society, giving rise to great leaps in development, should be implemented in all these 3 directions.


In under-developed societal conditions, reforms in the third world nations are different from those in developed countries in terms of characteristics, contents, and implementation strategies. Lacking this consideration, superficial application of reform experiences in developed countries to developing ones has met with risks that could have been avoided, fallen into loss of direction, or even failed. Thus, more efforts should be exerted in studying implementation strategies and the immanent relation between political and economic reforms – the two main components that can determine success in all third world’s reforms.

Economic reform lays premise for political reform


In the first place, it should be asserted that third world nations cannot implement political reform before economic one because they are now submerged in the once-slave’s misery. People are not prepared enough for political reform to be implemented while economic conditions have not been improved. If economic reform is not given the first priority, ordinary people will not be able to be aware of their interests and ownership-based values. That economic should be implemented first is also because people find it much easier to conceive their material interests than spiritual ones. Subjects of reforms are the populace and the reform process is executed based on their voluntariness in interests. Then when people are conscious of their interests, they will not become rebels who break their own interest structure. Economic reform is to go first to emancipate people from poverty, which lays premises for political reform, ensuring that democratic rights are not misused to harm community interests.  Some have misjudged when they refer to experiences in Eastern Europe as good examples for “political reform first then comes economic one”. In fact, what happened in Eastern Europe was not a political reform but a genuine political revolution as it shatters old political regimes for the establishment of a new one. From such analyses, it can be concluded that third world countries have no ways other than embarking on economic reforms to create conditions for political ones.


Some may argue that reforms are to control crises or sluggishness so that economic development can be accelerated. But they fail to comprehend that economic reform in developing countries, by nature, is much different from the similar reform in developed nations. Currently, economic reform in developing countries is the creation of free and independent economic rights.  This is the two basic economic rights in the market economy, which form the cores of human and civil rights. Economic reforms enable the status of citizens for local people so that they can comprehend their citizenship in spiritual spheres. When people have got accustomed to free economic rights, they will recognize the benefits of free politics. Thus, if economics is not liberated from politics, it is impossible to create material premises for positive changes of the political system.


Political Reform Protects the Success and Completion of Reform Process

Realities show that many political institutions of the third world have become backward in a dynamic and changing world. Having existed during the Cold War period, many political institutions still keep intact factors of the post-colonial period like a tight shirt that cannot be compatible with the increasingly developing economic body. At present, many political systems in developing countries are facing two situations.  Firstly, the ruling apparatus cling to the old political system, making social conflicts more and more severe, then facing a revolution. Secondly, the whole society, under the leadership of the ruling apparatus, carry out political reform in a peaceful, controlled and planned manner so as to establish new political institutions, which are compatible with new socio-economic conditions.


For the sake of stability, many people are afraid that political reform can make political institution collapse. Actually, political reform eradicates backward political factors, replacing them with more advanced and compatible factors in order to satisfy the objective demands for development. Political reform aims at maintaining, completing and rationalizing political systems instead of eliminating and replacing them with others. Political reform is quite different from a political revolution. The world used to witness earthquake political revolutions, French Bourgeois Revolution in 1789, Soviet October Revolution in 1917, for instance. Political revolution is to overthrow a political system in order to establish a new one, thus, political revolution takes place very drastically, upsetting every fields of social life. Along with the birth of new factors, the cost of any political revolutions is very terrible, taking much time and efforts to overcome their consequence.


The modern world has developed to a new mood of essence, any fields of life tends to be very changeable, and mankind, thus, faces more global risks. For instance, nowadays, just a nuclear arsenal of a single mighty nation can destroy the whole world. A modern political revolution may make every fields of life troublous, pushing the society to a broken and chaotic situation, making everything uncontrollable, resulting in a disaster of not only a nation but also the whole human beings. That is why the modern world is not appropriate to and actually does not need political revolutions. Political reform takes place in a peaceful, orderly and legally controlled manner, and it is, therefore, the sole measure to avoid the collapse of political systems.  


Political reform does not make political institution collapse thanks to its way towards the rationality of the development life. Talented and lucid politicians know the value of political reform so well and use it as a measure to avoid political revolution. The fear for the collapse of the political system caused by political reform is groundless; to the contrary, political reform makes political institution stronger and compatible to the new age at a higher level. Without political reform, any other reform is just a temporary solution. Under such meaning, political reform is considered a factor to complete the reform process, playing the crucial role in ensuring the complete success of the socio-economic reform process.


In fact, many people do not clearly distinguish political institution and political system from political ideal. Political ideal is a noble aspiration of the human being; it is also a romantic aspect of our life and a moral aspect of political activities. Political system and political institutions are practical moods, or structures, of political activities helping people adjust their own lives. Basically, political reform makes political institution and political system more appropriate to present moods of our life. Political reform of the third world now aims at making political institution facilitate the development life by reducing peculiarities and extreme aspects and improving the content of international political activities’ popularity. It is, therefore, not necessary for political reform to change political ideal. If we do not distinguish political system from political ideal, it is easy for people to bear the complex that political reform, seemingly, is to betray political ideal or to lose political ideal. This complex creates the fear, and even the dread of reform, or from another aspect, the deceit in political reform. 


Political reform is to improve the quality of a political institution, which is manifested in its compatibility to modern democracy as well as in its appropriateness to the development process of humankind. In our age, the quality of political systems of third world nations is shown by the effective support to international integration process. It should be noticed that international integration, in the modern age, is not economic integration only. Nowadays, integration is the harmony among communities and the same with the whole human beings. This harmony takes place during the process of economic and cultural harmonization and the process of minimizing political differences among communities. It is sure that the third world will be able to carry out these processes because it is the development tendency of the history and because humankind is basically alike and also because humankind has only one common house, which is the world. 




The Tardiness and the Lateness of Political Reform

Why does the process of socio-economic reform of the third world take place slowly? After half of century emancipated from the colonialist yoke, the third world is still deadlocked in the poverty of material and the cramp of spirit. It is political system to blame for the third world’s failure in escaping from this tragedy, which is increasingly backward and becoming the main obstacle in the development process. This malady relates to what is so-called the tardiness of political reform of the third world. In nature, this is the non-synchronous mood of the reform process, in which the political system tends to keep its characteristics that cannot match with social realities. Thus, it is required that thorough studies be conducted to improve this situation and to accelerate the reform process in a comprehensive manner so as to gain greater success.   


The tardiness of political reform is an inevitable phenomenon of social life; however, it is necessary to distinguish the natural tardiness from the unnatural one, which is understood as the purposive tardiness resulting from the conservativeness of the political system. The tardiness of political reform is a normal phenomenon of the political life as long as there is no objective mood of the economic and development life requiring the political system to reform. Nonetheless, if we purposely slow down the natural tardiness to an excessive threshold, the society will have to face a political revolution causing the collapse of the political system, resulting in heavy damage of material and spirit of the society. For the humane reason, we have to cure the malady of purposely slowing down the political reform process.


Studying and building the theory of political reform will improve the accuracy of the awareness of political reform so as to overcome the fear of political reform. Besides, tardiness of political reform also gives rise to the issue of the role, obligation, responsibility and capacity of politicians. Politics has its own requirements that exceed normal capacity of men, then politicians must be intellectual, brave and lucid; in addition to normal standards of morality, they must be capable to build regular reform programs so as not to change the natural tardiness into the purposive one, helming the society away from sluggishness with the accumulation of conflict that may become destructive clashes.


The Cause of the Tardiness of Political Reform

The first and crucial cause of the tardiness of political reform originates from political reasons. The glorious past of the struggle for independence makes the political systems of third world countries self-satisfied, which is manifested in their ways to integrate into the world. Many leaders of third world nation incarcerate themselves in the theories that are no longer suitable to the modern world. They cannot be aware that to integrate successfully, the third world's standards of values must be changed. Failure to renew standards of value makes the tardiness of political reform become especially serious. 


Political reform depends heavily on the will of the ruling apparatus as well as their awareness of benefits and risks. Political reform often comes hands in hands with the loss of power, which is not easy to be accepted by the current rulers. Clinging to old characteristics and then create a superficial stability in order to conceal the ambition of maintaining power is the philosophy of many leaders and political systems. Obsessed by the loss of power, rulers always fear and delay reforms. Despite the backwardness apparent in many characteristics of political system, they are still preserved in a long time and on a large scale as a conscious activity to restrain political progress. Instead of being aware that self-renovation is necessary, leaders tend to cope with political revolution, pushing the society to a dangerous situation, even to serious socio-economic crises as what have happened in many developing countries.


Socio-economic reason is considered the second cause of the tardiness of political reform. So far, almost all third world countries have not created favorable premises of political reform. Despite being emancipated from colonialism, the third world is still grappling with the less developed situation of society and economy. Fearing the loss of vested interests, some social forces purposely avoid or slow down economic reforms, i.e. the postponement of economic reform contributes to slow political reforms.  


The third cause stems from negative cultural factors. The tardiness of reforms depends on awareness of the society as well as its education level. Culture always contains the relative backwardness. The ruling apparatus is inclined to tout the preservation of cultural peculiarities so that they can, on this basis, maintain an outdated political system. Besides, we should mention the influences of religions. In developing countries where religions have considerable voices, it is very difficult to establish an advanced political system.



A perfunctory political reform or a political reform that does not derive from life demands will fail to solve any problems. It makes the situation worse and pushes the political system, and even a nation to sluggishness and crises. Political reform is a process towards democracy and freedom, replacing backward political concepts without destruction and it is the most humane meaning of political reform in our epoch.


Political regime is always the result of choosing one among political tendencies. However, the chosen political tendency will then show its weakness and political reform, thus, is the choice of a new trend for a new development phase. Nonetheless, it is necessary to wait until the new exposes its rationality by proving the backwardness of the old. Therefore, the study of political reforms is to find out the measures to complete the political system, moving it towards the rationality and suitability of development rules.


This writing has no ambition of drawing out a detailed reform program; instead, it will points out the most important contents of this difficult, complicated and inspiring roadmap. It should be noted that the prerequisite to the victory of a reform in any field and on any scale, is always the thoroughness of the reform as well as the will of the executors, who are advanced political forces, and the whole people. In order to assure success, political reforms should be carried out in the following basic contents:

Firstly, political reform is to acknowledge the democracy of politics as well as the diversity of political life. It is extremely important to the case of the ruling party. Political reform is closely attached to the reform of ruling party. The vitality of the ruling party undeniably stems from the people and it is, thus, an obligation of the ruling party to carry out its renovation process along with that of nation. Among the solutions to reform politics of third world countries is the diversification of political opinions within the ruling party. History shows that an advanced concept does not always belong to majorities. In our age, if the ruling party does not diversify political opinions, it will be “sclerotic”, backward and it will have to face the danger of self-annihilation. Diversifying political opinions within a party is also the diversification of the political life, enabling its vitality to resist effectively the risks of modern society. Therefore, accepting the diversity of spirit and awareness is not only the lucidity of intelligence but also a humane signal of politicians and political systems.

Secondly, it is necessary to define the nucleus of any political reform is individual freedom, i.e. the respection of individual rights and citizenship as well as human rights. This is the most important and basis content of political reform in developing countries. It also implicates that the third world must change its concept of human freedom in political system. Political system is not permitted and entitled to subjugate people. In other words, we must establish a civil society - a society of people those who have rights to their destiny and that of their nation.            

Thirdly, political reform is to assert development rights of any individuals and of the whole society with the realization of democratic rights. Nowadays, development should not only be considered a fact of social life but also a basic right of any individual and the whole society in a very changeable world. The right to develop creates the basis for any individuals and communities to develop both material and spiritual capacity as well as their initiative position so as to pursue and build a happy life in a civilized society. In order to realize democratic rights on a society scale, political reform should follow the trend in which governments transfer parts of rights and responsibilities to non-governmental organizations. The maturity together with practical activities of non-governmental organizations is considered the best means to encourage each individual and the whole community to carry out the development rights not in chaos but in an organized and effective manner under rational and legal control.  

Finally, political reform must build a society in general and politics in particular towards democracy. It would be possible that the concept, color and standards of democracy is not absolutely alike among various countries in the world, since democracy depends on historical conditions, education level as well as awareness of each nation. However, wherever it is, it must satisfy two basic standards. Firstly, democracy comes with economic freedom, with respect for individual rights and with the establishment of a civil society. Secondly, democracy is the equality amongst various political opinions in both countries pursuing political pluralism and those with singularism. It assures the replacement of backward political factors in a controllable, undestroyed and legal manner.

The world has been changing and the only way to develop is to look ahead to the place where attractiveness of the future and new truths to be found converge. Political reform is different from normal political dealing that are used to overcome difficulties in an unsustainable manner. It is an activity of the political system taken to self-improve so as to cope with development demands of the nations involved. It is not the result of any foreign pressure. During the development process of the third world, political reform has its own tardiness (i.e. often implemented after other reforms). But we should not cling to this feature to delay political reforms from time to time. All the more, we should not replace political reform with any other palliative measures. Any activity aimed at delaying political reform must be condemned as a historical crime because it only strengthens the misery of the masses and drives the third world further into backwardness. We must not adhere to the past even if it is full of glory and the past must not be used as the standard in building the future. The third world should be politically wise enough to overcome political tardiness and to complete the socio-economic reform in order that the great take-off of the third world into development orbid can be realized. 

BWW Society member Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat graduated from Hanoi Construction University in 1972 with a degree in Construction Engineering; in 1995 he earned his LL.B. degree from Law Faculty of Hanoi University.


From 1963 until 1975, Mr. Bat served in the army as soldier and Construction Engineer. After 1975 he held positions at the Institute for Transport Science Research, the State Committee for Capital Construction, the National Office on Inventions under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and from 1987-89 he served as Deputy Director of the Bureau for Promotion and Development of Industrial Properties Activities.


Presently Mr. Bat is Chairman and General Director of the Investconsult Investment Consultancy and Technology Transfer Company, under the National Center for Scientific Research; he previously held the position of General Director. As Chairman of Investconsult, the firm is now one of Vietnam's leading private consulting groups, specializing in law and IP. The firm has four offices in Vietnam, totaling a full time staff of 220 providing consulting services to foreign businesses and investors, ranging from policy advice, legal advice, project advice and post-license services to public relations and intellectual properties services. Mr. Bat has recently established the first private research institute in Vietnam, the Investconsult Development Research Institute, which covers three levels of research: business and services development, Vietnam development, and global development issues. Mr. Bat is also the founder of Vietnam's first consulting service corporation, which since 1987 has assisted more than one-thousand foreign businesses and corporations with their investments in Vietnam; his client list includes numerous Fortune 500 corporations. The consulting group has also been commissioned by WB, IFC, ADB, UNDP, NGOs and foreign embassies to implement donor-funded projects in a wide range of assistance and developmental programs. Additionally, since 1986 Mr. Bat has been involved in the design and construction of major bridges and roads in Vietnam.


Mr. Bat is a member of the Executive Board of the Club for Enterprises with Foreign Investment Capital and is a member of the Australian Economic Development Committee, the Board of Directors of Beta Mekong Fund Ltd., the Vietnam Engineering Consultants Association, and the Nam Dinh Bar Association; he is the Director of International Affairs of Hanoi Lawyers' Association and Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Industrial Property Association. Mr. Bat is a well-known speaker at many important forums and seminars concerning Vietnamese development issues at home and abroad. In his free time, he enjoys studying foreign cultures, religion, philosophy, reading and economics.  Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat was a Featured Speaker at the 2003 International Congress of the BWW Society/IAPGS last August in Antequera, Spain.


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