271. Memorandum Prepared by the Board of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency1

Special Memorandum No. 7–67


  • The September Presidential Election in South Vietnam

[Here follow material on the Thieu-Ky merger, an analysis of the civilian contenders, and a discussion of the pre-election period.]


As things now stand, the military slate has to be the favorite in the coming election because of its large and relatively united organization, the finances available to it, and its control of the government. However, it is not unbeatable, and the civilian candidates will in any event play a key role in the election process. Even if the civilians do not unite, there is just enough uncertainty about the strength of military unity and enough uncommitted groups of votes to make for some fluidity.
The chances that the election will be held on schedule appear fairly good. The generals would probably consider postponing the election only if they felt their chances at the polls were so poor that even extralegal pressures would not tip the voting in their favor. It is conceivable that such a situation might develop, but not likely.
We can be less confident about the chances for fair elections. If the leading civilians continue to pursue their individual candidacies and no crisis develops, the military slate should be able to win honestly. However, an attempt by the civilian candidates to unite would probably cause the military to react by exerting questionable pressures. If unfair tactics by the military began to affect campaigning seriously, the civilian contenders might withdraw in protest, thus rendering the election largely meaningless. If illegal tactics were employed on election day or immediately prior to it, the civilians could refuse to acknowledge the results, and instead charge fraud. Even if the civilians do not unite, the generals may tend to underestimate their own prospects and thus feel compelled to exert unnecessary pressures. Additionally, some province chiefs and other local government officials may independently become overzealous and ultimately do more damage than good. Further complicating the general issue is the possibility that the elections may be widely regarded as having been unfair even though the military leaders make no deliberate efforts in this direction.
Whether or not it were well-founded, a general belief that the elections were rigged would thwart the major purpose of constitutional development—that of establishing a legitimate mandate for the government which in turn would improve its prospects for rallying popular participation and support. To dispell such suspicions, the civilian contenders at a minimum would have to acknowledge tacitly that the elections were fair, and the constituent assembly—now acting as a provisional legislature—would have to ratify the election results without reflecting much doubt. Even more effective would be the appointment of the candidate who runs second as prime minister since it would considerably strengthen the government’s claim to legitimacy. There are, however, many problems—including the question of military rivalries after the election—which are standing in the way of such a development, and it constitutes little more than a possibility at this point.
For the Board of National Estimates:
Abbot Smith
Acting Chairman
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, IG(1) Elections. Secret.