136. Memorandum Prepared by the Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency (Carver)1

SUBJECT

  • Nation in Ferment: National Elections and Political Permutations in South Vietnam

Summary

The development of a much-needed political base for the Vietnamese government is slowly gaining momentum. The movement toward representative and effective governmental institutions has been complicated by divisive political and social influences and an absence of unifying traditions or institutions, as well as by intensified Communist political and military efforts. Having stabilized the situation, Vietnam’s military leadership remains largely unified in its reluctance to relinquish its dominant position, but recognizes the need to share [Page 327]power with civilian elements in order to gain the popular support needed to counter the disciplined Communist political threat.

Since its inception the Ky government has been consciously moving toward a transition to at least ostensible civilian rule along the Korean pattern. Because of their dominant position, the leaders of the military establishment have considerable assets to assist in accomplishing their aims, including funds, patronage, and the only non-Communist organization reaching down to the grass roots. To bolster their prospects, the military are attempting to form a loose political front composed of representatives of various religious and political groups which will sponsor GVN-endorsed candidates in the forthcoming elections.

If the military establishment can agree on a single slate and a single presidential candidate to support, none of the potential civilian candidates appears likely to develop the organization and broad spectrum of support necessary to seriously contest the military establishment’s choice. This is particularly true if, as seems certain to be the case, the opposition to the military’s choice is divided among two or more slates. Both the Suu and Huong tickets seem destined to split the important southern vote. None of the other candidates seems likely to muster more than nominal regional support.

Major issues in the elections are likely to stem largely from opposition to the concept of continued military control of the government. The opposition probably will focus on the related issues of corruption, inflation, and inefficiency of the military establishment, and may label Ky a U.S. puppet. The themes of peace and neutrality may also be espoused by the opposition, whose position would thus take on significant anti-American undertones. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the campaign will get too far off the track, although the possibility of flashes of violence cannot be ruled out completely. Other potential pitfalls include the danger that the military, unduly concerned over their prospects for victory, may attempt to repress the opposition or to rig the results. These also seem unlikely, and we expect the military, under Ky’s leadership, to make a realistic endeavor to put the best possible face on its efforts to forge a genuine coalition with civilian elements.

On balance, the odds favor the election coming out reasonably well for both the GVN and the U.S., particularly if the U.S. provides active, discreet advice and counsel within the context of Vietnamese political realities. The military establishment appears almost certain to score a smashing electoral victory. The best hope is that, in doing so, it will facilitate the development of a broad political coalition comprising something approaching a majority of the electorate. Such a coalition could provide the basis for ultimate development of a genuine, cohesive, national [Page 328]party which would foster stability and provide a strong popular base for the GVN.

[Here follows the body of the memorandum comprising 18 pages of analysis.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, SAVA (Carver) Files, Job 80–B01712R, (SAVA) Jan.–June 1967. Secret. In a covering memorandum to the Director of Central Intelligence, Carver noted that the Office of National Estimates and the Far East Bureau contributed to the preparation of the memorandum. Although the memorandum was produced for the Saigon Station, Carver believed that it would be useful to distribute it to interested individuals and agencies. It was distributed as a “blind memorandum” with a Secret marking in order to “enhance its utility and avoid drawing attention to its CIA origin.”