268. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Reinhardt) to the Department of State 1

1846. 1. On basis information available 7 p.m. October 25 Bao DaiDiem referendum characterized by (a) energetic, one-sided pre-election campaign in favor Diem, (b) absence of freedom for opposition propaganda, (c) large participation in voting, (d) secrecy of balloting, (e) apparently honest tabulation of votes, (f) orderliness of voting and absence any serious incidents before, during or after voting, and (g) landslide for Diem (approximately 98 percent of votes).2

2. First conclusion is that referendum proved resounding success for Diem government. Results do not necessarily prove Diem commands even majority support in Free Vietnam, in view Bao Dai lack of popularity, but show government able to carry out almost unchallenged popular consultation. Diem’s success lay less in victory percentage than in large turnout and fact voting carried out in democratic fashion without significant incidents.

3. Referendum would also seem to indicate Viet Minh potential for creating political disorder has been generally overestimated. Although Communists may not have wished become openly identified with Bao Dai or create open disorder at this juncture, it hard to believe they would have willingly permitted such an impressive show of Diem government strength (which bound to increase Diem prestige at expense of Communists) go unchallenged. Hanoi Radio had carried strong appeals to voters to boycott referendum. Except in few areas where Hoa Hao fighting taking place, participation generally over 90 percent of registered voters.

4. Anti-Communist nationalists opposed to Diem in south have attempted belittle referendum and have claimed people irked by one-sided [Page 566] pro-Diem campaign. Again fact so few persons apparently voted against Diem in spite of opportunity would tend to cast serious doubts validity this claim.

5. Finally it would seem to us that results referendum render unlikely Bao Dai will be able to play significant role in future. Fact he so overwhelmingly repudiated in Free Vietnam means not only that he can expect little indigenous support but renders also improbable DRV regime or Communist bloc in general will consider Bao Dai useful tool for their purposes.

6. We have impression that government leaders are pleasantly surprised at their own success, and that electorate, particularly the women, enjoyed new experience.3

Reinhardt
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/10–2555. Secret; Priority. Repeated for information to Paris, Vientiane, London, Phnom Penh, Ottawa, and New Delhi.
  2. According to telegram 1849 from Saigon, October 26, the final official results were: for Diem 5,960,302 (98.2 percent); for Bao Dai 63,017 (1.1 percent); invalid votes 44,155 (0.7 percent). (Ibid., 751G.00/10–2655)
  3. More detail and analysis by the Embassy of the DiemBao Dai referendum is in Document 278.