246. Editorial Note

On July 17, 1967, the Special Committee of the Vietnamese Constituent Assembly, established to certify electoral slates, recommended that the Assembly reject the military ticket headed by Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu and Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky and instead accept the opposition candidacy of former Head of State Duong Van Minh. According to telegram 1381 from Saigon, July 19, the man behind such political maneuvering was Ky himself, who envisioned using the challenge to the military as an excuse to dissolve the Assembly and divest his ticket of Thieu, which would again position Ky as the leading Presidential candidate. The next day, the top Vietnamese Generals, fearing that the crisis was “an American maneuver to bring in a civilian ticket,” prevented the Assembly from voting against the Thieu-Ky candidacy. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)

On July 18 Bui Diem, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States, then in Saigon, telephoned Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker to inform him that the military had concluded that it might have to engage in “some strong action” as a result of the Special Committee’s recommendation. Bunker suggested that if they could not work out the situation with the Assembly, Thieu and Ky needed to “consider the possibility of stepping aside” in order to avoid the impasse. Bunker also warned that his government “absolutely would not countenance any sort of coup if that was what the military had in mind” by its statement. (Telegram 1409 from Saigon, July 19; ibid., POL 27 VIET S; this telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pages 86–91) Additional analysis by the Embassy staff is also in telegram 1307 from Saigon, July 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)

As a result of pressure from the Generals, the Assembly reversed the recommendation against the Thieu-Ky ticket late on July 18 and approved ten other candidacies, but disqualified the candidacies of seven opposition slates, including those of Minh and Au Truong Thanh, the leading peace candidate, on the grounds that Minh’s running mate had once had French citizenship and that Thanh had Communist connections. In the aftermath, the Embassy was concerned by the action and suggested it would “leave political atmosphere somewhat tense and embittered.” (Telegram 8796 from Saigon, July 18; ibid., POL 27 VIET S)