Hanoi awoke to a red dawn yesterday for a day of democracy Vietnamese-style. Blood-red national flags and banners hung from virtually every building as the capital's vast megaphone system blared out patriotic songs from 6 am to build enthusiasm for the first parliamentary polls in five years. As residents slowly made their way to dozens of polling booths, public addresses urged people to fulfil their civic obligations and vote. Two thirds of all candidates are guaranteed places on the 450-member National Assembly when results come through later this week after a decidedly gentle campaign. One of the first to the booths was the country's top leader Do Muoi, General Secretary of the Communist Party, who swiftly defended Vietnam's 'direct democracy' within a system of firm one-party rule. Democracy was growing day by day as the country's economic fortunes improved, he said, after placing a folded pink slip into a box in a booth on Banana Street in central Hanoi. People exercised their 'mastership' through about 500 grassroots bodies and public meetings where voters came face-to-face with candidates for the first time. The meetings saw at least one candidate knocked back for keeping a mistress. Mr Muoi said: 'We have selected talented people in order to handle their mission before the people, regardless if he or she is a party member. In our democracy we have only one party but we have many organisations.' Mr Muoi denied newspaper claims of official cheating, saying: 'We have conducted, so far, nine assembly elections and no cheating has been noticed. Our candidates do not have to spend money to buy votes.' Election officials said there was a high turnout in most areas early in the day. Some districts had achieved a 100 per cent turnout. About 40 million adults were eligible to vote from a list of 662 carefully screened candidates. Most candidates hold Communist Party cards. All but 11 are linked to a vast state apparatus through nomination procedures. A record 202 women were among the candidates as part of a government drive to ensure at least 30 per cent of the new assembly is female. The assembly meets twice a year to pass laws and debate government policy and has grown in stature in recent years. Several government appointments have been questioned while debate over laws and policies has grown more spirited. Ultimate rule still rests with the Communist Party through the Politburo and its Central Committee, which meet behind closed doors.