129. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

22283. Subject: Elections, election laws and security for candidates.

During a conversation April 6 with Prime Minister Ky I had an opportunity to discuss a range of questions related to elections in Viet-Nam.
Electoral Laws
I observed that the GVN had asked the Assembly to complete the electoral laws for the elections of President, Vice President, upper and lower houses by the end of April. We felt that close cooperation between the GVN and the Assembly would be necessary even to come near the deadline and, more importantly, to write satisfactory laws. We believed that there was no time to be lost in notifying the Assembly as soon as possible regarding the broad outlines of what should be in the law. I added that electoral laws could be of great importance in determining whether the elections would be fair and free; whether they provided equality for all candidates; or whether they contained convincing [Page 305] safeguards against election fraud. I also thought it was of the utmost importance that the law should try to insure that the winner had a respectable mandate—40 percent of the vote or more.2
In reply, Ky said that he had already talked with the members of the Assembly. He said that they planned to ask for technical assistance from the Ministry of Revolutionary Development and this Ministry would, of course, provide it.
Comment: I raised this subject at this time in the hope that exchanges of view between the GVN and Constituent Assembly would commence immediately rather than delay the Assembly’s work on this difficult subject, as it did during the constitution drafting process. End comment.
Security at Election Time
I stressed the importance of security in this connection. As regards the candidates for President, there could be no doubt that the assassination of someone of the stature of Suu or Huong3 could have a devastating effect, possibly destroying everything that Ky had labored to build up during the last year. In that sense, it could be a bigger defeat than either Suu or Huong could inflict while alive. It was important for the government to provide security for Suu and Huong, and it was important for the whole world to know it. I would personally be happy to see them followed around by a jeep full of policemen as I was.
Ky said that he had offered security to Suu who had refused, saying that he was so popular that nobody would ever do him any harm.
I said that I was not sure that this was enough. I believed a written offer would be in order and also I thought that he should provide the security whether Suu consented or not. Ky’s record in this regard should be absolutely beyond any possible reproach.
He agreed and said he would act in this way.
I also brought up the recent reports that six Constituent Assembly Deputies had received dud grenades and threatening letters [Page 306] signed by a group of “progressive journalists.” I said that some people had tried to plant the idea with me that this had been done by the Director of Police.4
I said that I had told them that this was obviously impossible. I said that the Director of Police acted under the orders of Prime Minister Ky and that I knew that Prime Minister Ky was much too broad- minded and farsighted a man to go in for these picayune (“mesquin”), French-style, would-be-clever tactics. Here again, I said that Prime Minister Ky’s best interest lies in providing security for everybody involved in the political life of Viet-Nam, and having it well known by them that they were doing it, so that when they talked to any newspapermen this fact would be reflected.
Comment: I feel that what I said about the French may have a persuasive effect. Ky is very critical of French tactics and of the methods which the French have used here to sow suspicion and division. And in his own heart, he is happiest when he feels that he is not acting like the French. He expressed his agreement with my remarks. End comment.
I congratulated him on the successful carrying out of the first round of local elections. This would have to be continued by providing firm and continuing support to the new village and hamlet organs of government.
Presidential Election
I was happy to learn that his view of how the Presidential elections should develop is similar to that expressed in our Saigon 21973.5 He agreed with me that a military man who is a candidate for President would choose a civilian as Vice Presidential candidate who was politically symbolic and who complemented the Presidential candidate’s political attributes. He also agreed that the Presidential candidate would announce whom he would appoint as Prime Minister, and this should not be politically symbolic but should be a civilian known for his executive ability, for his brains and for his drive. I asked: “Someone like the Minister of Economy, Mr. Hanh?” and Ky agreed. Thus Ky is thinking in terms of three names per ticket.
Comment: This means that there could be a situation in which there would be one slate with a military man for President, a civilian for Vice President, and a civilian announced as the Prime Minister in case of victory, and, in addition, two or maybe three slates in which all the positions would be held by civilians, for a possible total of four [Page 307] slates, making at least eleven individuals involved in the campaign who would be civilians and one who would be military.

This may be better “scenery” than a consensus situation in which the military candidate has been able to organize practically everybody for him. Yet it could mean some real non-Communist political opposition, which is essential. It is clearly much better than having a contest between two military men, which could be disastrous. It does carry with it the risk that the winner will not have 40 percent of the vote. It does seem to give the whole thing as “civilian” an appearance as possible, given the realities. The problem is quite baffling since there are no polls in which I have confidence and there are no previous election figures, and it is hard at this stage to have even an educated guess on, for example, how strongly Ky would run against Suu.

End comment.

E [sic].
Significance of the Constitution
We then had a talk on the broad psychological implications of the promulgation of the Constitution, with me saying that this was an event which transcended in importance the actual substantive features of the Constitution itself—important though these were. The Constitution, I ventured, symbolized some very new and constructive attitudes which were at work in Viet-Nam: first, a spirit of self-confidence; second, a spirit of moderation, of live and let live, of striving for unity; and third, an attitude of responsibility—of being willing to take responsibility for their own actions and not act irresponsibly thinking that somebody would bail them out. I said that these were all traits which colonialism traditionally sought to quash.
He said, “This is exactly what I think about it. And I hope it means that now that we have been able to think and act this way with regard to the Constitution this state of mind will become widespread in all our other affairs.”
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Received at 8:29 a.m.
  2. Ambassador Bunker reported in telegram 25837, May 16, that the Assembly, under government pressure, voted down a provision for a run-off election. “This episode is one more example of the fact that there are only certain lengths to which we can properly go in seeking to influence and advise the GVN or the Assembly on such matters,” Ambassador Bunker noted. “The final decision is theirs.” (Ibid.)
  3. Telegram 22404 from Saigon, April 7, summarized the various threats against Deputies, and quoted one Vietnamese source as suggesting that General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a strong supporter of Ky, was behind the activities. (Ibid.) In telegram 185018 to Saigon, April 29, the Department requested that Bunker make a strong démarche to Ky on the matter. (Ibid.)
  4. A reference to Loan.
  5. Document 126.