Vietnam's 'Lady Gaga' runs for parliament
Pop star Mai Khoi, dubbed Vietnam's Lady Gaga for her risque outfits, is running for parliament with a crew of dissidents and activists who are testing the authoritarian nation's limits.
Khoi is no stranger to controversy. Her song Selfie Orgasm sparked a storm of criticism. Her sartorial choices, including braless public appearances, regularly cause ripples of shock in the staid state-run media.
The 32-year-old has joined lawyers, journalists and political dissidents posing a challenge to the communist leadership by running for elected office in the National Assembly.
"The discussion has centred on whether my views, lifestyle and dress sense are suitable for a member of the National Assembly," she told AFP."
"I hope people will judge me on the strength of my ideas, not the colour of my hair," she said, adding she would promote gay rights and fight violence against women if elected.
On paper, Vietnam has an admirably democratic constitution, which allows anyone over 21 years to seek election to parliament, said academic Nguyen Quang A, another candidate.
In reality, more than 90 per cent of the some 500-strong legislative body are members of the ruling Communist Party, with the remaining lawmakers mostly wealthy businessman seeking to advance their interests.
Mr Nguyen said: "We're trying to help the regime realise their rhetoric is nice. The reality is different."
He said he sees his run for parliament as part of a "democratic learning process" for the country which needs to learn to "serve not rule".
"Even in a dictatorship you can educate people to respect democratic values," he said, speaking deliberately loudly so that the plain-clothes police who often follow can hear.
After the March 13 deadline, about 100 independent candidates applied to run for office in the polls to be held on May 22.
Although such candidates have run in previous elections, this is the first time a significant number have sought to use polls as a form of peaceful protest against the one-party state.
Many told AFP they were prepared for jail. But it is likely administrative methods will be used to block them.
Khoi said she had been threatened with rejection of paperwork over a minor irregularity that she was not been given a chance to correct.
"I can only imagine that this is the result of political interference and an attempt to block my candidature," she told AFP, adding that the status of her application was unclear.
"The outcome of my case will send a clear message to the world about the fairness of the electoral process."