148. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

183049. Ref: Saigon 23967.2

1.
Reftel and collateral evidence in FVS 14,196 and FVS 14,9203 indicates that run-off election is becoming key election issue. We continue to believe strongly that successful presidential candidate must obtain either majority or substantial plurality of vote (we question whether 35% is substantial enough plurality). President, as leader of nation, should benefit from prestige which sizeable percentage of popular vote accords him and thus be in better political and psychological position to conduct both his internal programs and his nation’s foreign relations. In Viet-Nam, where body politic has long suffered from sharply divisive factors and where future Government will have to deal with well-disciplined and tightly organized communist group, this factor becomes even more significant. Moreover, international image of minority President, particularly if he is military man, is likely to be most unfavorable.
2.
On other hand, electoral law provisions on this issue could have considerable impact on outcome of elections, as you note para 3 reftel,4 and we tend to accept judgment of those Deputies who believe [Page 349]run-off increases chances of Southern—and presumably civilian—candidate.
3.
Issue squarely before us, then, is how strongly we should push for inclusion in electoral law of run-off or similar device, recognizing that our judgment on this score could affect outcome of presidential election and that our position could be interpreted as biased in favor of civilian candidate. Moreover, if we push for run-off or similar device to insure that President is elected by substantial majority (at least 40–45% of vote), this could force Loan, for example, to take stronger measures to ensure a Ky election victory.
4.
On balance, we believe you should continue to urge strongly that CA adopt run-off or similar provision, pointing out to Deputies and Directorate (especially Ky and Thieu) unfortunate implication of minority President both internally in SVN and internationally.
5.
Request your prompt comment.
Katzenbach
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Approved by Unger.
  2. In telegram 23967, April 25, the Embassy reported on a “major battle” in the Constituent Assembly over the run-off provision in the Presidential election law. The minority group that favored the provision managed to gain temporary acceptance of the provision (but only if no candidate received more than 35 percent of the vote). The Directorate and its supporters strongly opposed such a proposition. (Ibid.)
  3. Neither found.
  4. This paragraph of telegram 23967 reported that supporters of southern candidates Huong and Suu favored the run-off provision while supporters of the military candidate favored a single election.