328. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1
2134. Deptel 14862 and message by other channels,3 with which Embassy [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in complete agreement, provided basis for presentation by me to Nhouy, Somsanith, Nouphat, Ngon, Phoui and Phoumi with detailed backup by staff yesterday and today with Nouphat, Ngon and Somsanith.
All found in agreement on (1) necessity single conservative list and confident its achievement; (2) advisability allow NLHX to run; (3) need minimize any manifestly unfair election procedures; (4) advantages in replacing province as electoral district having numerous deputies by smaller gerrymandered districts (based on combination Muongs or Tassengs) each with one deputy; and (5) practical impossibility implement in time any combined photograph registration system.
Only on two-stage elections and less on highway bonds was any dissent expressed. Phoui only one who did not need convincing on two stages. Though I managed impress Phoumi and Nouphat sufficiently to finally win their agreement this point, I am not certain they were sufficiently won over to wage any long and bitter battle in its behalf. Having agreed immediately after lunch with James, Ngon later confessed changing mind during sleepless siesta. Somsanith cool. Appeared unmoved despite reiterated DCM arguments.
Though criticism two-stage plan was expressed on grounds it clumsy, time consuming, expensive, basic objection appeared to be it unnecessary since combination gerrymandered districts, well selected candidates and single conservative list absolutely certain to win in sufficient districts to insure conservative two-thirds in assembly. What changed Ngon’s mind was fear existence two-stage insurance factor would relieve pressure on anti-Communist bloc to unify tickets. Staff and I hammered point that if unified list as certain as predicted, and anti-Communist victory so certain, objection to two-stage procedure really illusionary since would then not need to be resorted to. We argued procedure should be considered insurance policy whose cost relatively low in proportion protection it would afford.
Comment: With Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon under presidency of King to approve final draft new electoral law, last-minute shifts in position likely as consultations and [Page 738] negotiations continue between leading elements RLG and pro-government political groups. Since last Council of Ministers meeting, which set April 24 election date, also appears to have agreed in principle against two-stage procedure, we been forced wage uphill fight, with chances ultimate success not improved by indication from French and British they been limiting their emphasis to single list.