188. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1

14059. For Ambassador from Secretary.

We had high-level review today of election progress as reported in your recent cables, including your useful discussion with Ky reported in your 1631.2 Your reporting has been most useful, and we look forward to your more definitive analysis and assessment of candidates and, more generally, the real significance of the September elections for SVNʼs future political evolution.
In following paragraphs we list certain negative indications in Embassyʼs recent reporting which give us cause for concern. We therefore fully support your frank remarks to Ky reported Embtel 1631. We are fully aware of realities of Vietnamese political scene and do not expect political miracles out of September elections. At same time, we believe that Ky, Thieu, and others must be made to understand clearly that international focus of attention is on these elections and that there is already widespread skepticism regarding GVNʼs intentions to carry out free, meaningful elections. GVN leaders must be made thoroughly aware of importance internationally of these elections and that burden of proof regarding elections is on GVN.
Indications that could be construed as governmental rigging. As you know, this will be most sensitive possible subject from every standpoint. We recognize that Government has every right to put up and support sympathetic candidates, but we are somewhat perturbed by reports that many candidates in provinces are civil servants and that a significant number of military officers are filing to run. This situation can very easily give impression that Government is seeking to rig elections, and at very least will focus attention sharply on constituencies where candidates closely identified with Government are involved. For example, we find FBS 13, 3963 particularly disturbing.
Screening of candidates. We wish to reinforce the views expressed State 82594 that this will be key process. GVN should bend over backward to see that ineligibility criteria are strictly applied and that minimum number of candidates are eliminated and these on solid grounds. We note from your 16415 that Government has now approved Saigon lists headed by Suu, Sung, and Nghe, and suspect your conversation with Ky may have contributed to this result. Article 16 provision6 that whole list can be thrown out if one ineligible candidate is included could prove troublesome, and we gather from Kyʼs discussion with you that Government may find it possible to permit list to be corrected and re-submitted in cases where one candidate is ineligible, or there is some other defect such as existed in Sungʼs list. We hope Ky and others can be urged to make use of this discretionary authority wherever possible.
Boycott movement. Another unfortunate development, in our view, is ability of Father Quynhʼs Front of All Religions to attract personalities such as Mai Tho Truyen and to produce Tri Quang at a rally. September elections will be dealt another serious blow if Central Viet-Nam Buddhists are not represented in Constituent Assembly even indirectly and we would be concerned if Southerner of Truyenʼs stature cast his lot in opposition to elections. While GVN of course not directly responsible for those developments, Father Quynhʼs movement can only benefit by being able to point to evidence of GVN manipulation of election process.
Believe you should continue to discuss these issues very frankly with Ky, as well as with Thieu and others as appropriate, keeping pressure on them and making clear to them that we consider political progress in SVN as indispensable as military progress. We assume, too, that Embassy continuing to do everything within its power to encourage all[Page 524]elements to participate in and lend their support to September elections. We realize that these are delicate missions and leave to your discretion and judgment how they should be handled tactically.
General comment. We have following additional thoughts for prospective actions:
For your use and our own full information here, we are planning to send you every Tuesday and Friday a round-up of significant comment here and internationally on election progress. US comment would include both media lines and Congressional angles.
Handling of instances of VC harassment may become important. We gather that GVN is reluctant to publicize such incidents lest it contribute to very atmosphere of fear VC will try to create. However, it seems to us that background low-key briefing of US correspondents, for reporting here, would not be open to this objection and could assist in putting situation in focus.
As we have already made clear to each other in our exchanges, our basic policy should be to maintain regular flow of information to press and media, not seeking to conceal defects and difficulties while trying to give proper emphasis to positive and favorable developments. We have been taking background line here that a certain amount of local skulduggery is almost inevitable in the situation, and that such actions have not been uncommon in advanced democracies recently or even now.
We have been giving further thought to additional methods of international observation, particularly best use of Asian democratic countries. We will have further thoughts on this early next week. In this connection, we have been discouraging idea of individual American Congressmen going out to observe elections, believing that Asian observers would be much more effective and not open to charges of US intervention. You may be interested that there has been one Congressional demand for public hearings on election progress; at some point, this might conceivably be useful, and we are keeping it under review. In general, we will be trying here to get facts before interested Congressmen in all possible ways.
We gather that GVN campaign to get out the vote is proceeding with reasonable effectiveness, although with some spotty performance as well. Publicity to this operation would of course be helpful. In this connection, we note that there is considerable impression here that there are major restraints on right to vote, including impression that Communists and others are excluded. We should be keeping up steady effort to make facts clear in this respect.
One final point of potential concern here—as we know it is to you—is that Ky avoid public statements on what will happen after the Constituent Assembly convenes. We anticipate that the question of[Page 525]whether Constituent Assembly can assume legislative powers may become acutely controversial once Constituent Assembly is picked. However, any statement by Ky trying to pre-judge this issue or suggesting his determination to stay in power over a substantial period can only feed the fires of criticism that he is trying to rig the whole process. It would be helpful, of course, if he could reiterate his past statements about willingness to hand over power to a duly constituted civilian government just as soon as it exists. We say this knowing full well the difficulties you face in influencing his utterances, but trust you will do all you can through whatever channel is appropriate.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by William Bundy and Miller, cleared in substance by Rusk, and approved by Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Document 183.
  3. Not found.
  4. Dated July 15. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 14 VIET S)
  5. Dated July 22. (Ibid.)
  6. Reference is to Article 16 of the election law governing the Constituent Assembly election scheduled for September 1966. The election law is discussed in “Background on Vietnamese Election Law,” an enclosure to airgram CA-4 to all posts, July 1. (Ibid.)