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

5825. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my twentieth weekly telegram:

With the elections for President, Vice President, and the Senate behind us cries of anguish have gone up from some of the defeated candidates. Eight of the defeated Presidential candidates issued a written statement declaring that the elections had been fraudulent and that the signers would request the National Assembly to invalidate the elections. Tran Van Huong and Ha Thuc Ky did not join in the declarations. [Page 789]In a second rather general declaration issued yesterday, six of the candidates (Phan Khac Suu, Hoang Co Binh, Truong Dinh Dzu, Tran Van Ly, Nguyen Hoa Hiep, and Vu Hong Khanh) again denounced the “dishonest practices of this government,” the failure of the government ticket to receive more than 35 percent of the total vote in spite of the exertion of pressure and illegal practices, exhorting the people to speak out against this suppression and pointing out to the people and Government of the United States that the policy carried out in Viet-Nam must conform with the will of the Vietnamese people, that otherwise it will be doomed to “bitter and total failure.” The prime beneficiary of concerted action by the defeated candidates would be Truong Dinh Dzu, who ran second, and I believe the other candidates have only limited interest in helping Dzu to further his personal ambitions.
Among the Presidential protesters, Dzu seems to be the most active. He ran a notice in the Saigon Daily News yesterday morning “apologizing for having missed a meeting with Charles Doe and informs all foreign newsmen that he is available at any time, mornings from 9 to 12:30 at his law office and afternoons at his house from lunch time to 5:00 p.m. Thank you in advance.” He apparently has little else to do.
In addition to complaints by the Presidential candidates, one has been filed by an Assembly Deputy, Trieu Van Tuc, and four by voters.
Some other protest voices have also been heard. Four student groups have jointly declared that the elections were “rigged and arranged by a foreign hand.” Militant Buddhist leaders told a meeting at the An Quang pagoda on September 9 that the elections had been rigged, but their strongest condemnation was against the government for having signed the new Buddhist charter. I suspect that the government will act to prevent any serious difficulties by such elements.
The press in general seems to be taking a more responsible view of the election results than have most of the defeated candidates. The general view taken by the press of the elections seems to be one of a job well done. A number of papers have commented on the need for national solidarity and for the losing candidates to form a loyal opposition. Thoi Dai very sensibly told the losers to either cooperate with the government or form an opposition bloc.
It does not seem to us that the complaints, fifteen in all, have much substance, or that they provide adequate grounds for invalidation of the elections. However, the losers are not only dissatisfied, but are taking it hard and may give us some difficult moments before the election results are finally certified.
The Assembly meets today to announce the temporary results of the election. It will meet again in late September after court rulings [Page 790]on violations of the election laws have been submitted to it and the Central Election Council has examined complaints with respect to the conduct of the voting. The Assembly must vote by October 2 at the latest on the validity of the elections. While, as I have said, in our judgment it is very doubtful that the Assembly will be able to document to any degree of thoroughness the charges that the Presidential election was rigged, Deputies have not always voted in the past strictly on the basis of facts. In this instance, other pressures and interests could play a significant role in the way they vote. Ky, if he were so inclined could, for example, instruct 30 or so Deputies loyal to him to vote against validation in an effort to discredit or unseat Thieu or he could simply threaten to do so in an effort to exact concessions from Thieu. The eight Deputies who ran on the upper house slate associated with Dzu could also pose a problem as could scattered oppositionists who did not have a stake in orderly Constitutional development.
Our initial reading of the mood of the Assembly is that the followers of Tran Van Huong and Ha Thuc Ky will not engage in any efforts to discredit the elections, partly because they hope to be represented in Thieu’s government and because one of Ha Thuc Ky’s upper house slates has been elected. The combined strength of their followers in the Assembly is about 30 Deputies. The mood of the pro-GVN democratic alliance bloc, the largest bloc in the Assembly, is at this stage harder to gauge. Only two out of the more than 20 members of the bloc who ran for the upper house did so successfully. Piqued by their failure and with an uncertain political future, they might go along with the mood to throw out the elections.
We are taking the line with the Deputies that the question of validation is very serious and that unless there is extensive, substantial evidence that the election was rigged, the election of Thieu should be validated. We are also volunteering our impression, based on extensive observation not only by ourselves and our observers but observers from the other countries, that the election was an honest one and that if any cheating took place, it did not affect the outcome. In talking with Thieu yesterday, I impressed on him that a bit of judiciously applied GVN pressure and persuasion would appear to be in order.
Only this morning in talking with Ky, I brought up the subject of the Assembly attitude toward the elections. He recalled that he told me before the campaign started that we should expect some protests and disorders after the elections, especially from the An Quang Buddhists and perhaps students also who had been stirred up by the Buddhists, and remarked that a student demonstration was taking place while we were talking. He said that these demonstrations are confined to a relatively small group of so-called leaders in Saigon, but that the rest of the country was calm and quiet. He was quite confident [Page 791]it would remain so. He said that he understood fully the importance of responsible action by the Assembly in performing its function in regard to the elections and understood what the effect would be on opinion in the United States and elsewhere should it fail to act responsibly. He assured me that means were available to him and the GVN to see that the members acted responsibly and he proposed to do so. This is reassuring in view of some rumors that have come to us that Ky, feeling that he had been snubbed by Thieu and dissatisfied with the way in which the latter was going about the formation of his government, might use his influence to upset the results. He assured me that he had no intention whatever of taking any such irresponsible action.
In this immediate post election period the first order of business has been to focus on the effort to put together the new government. There is inevitably a period of maneuvering in which conflicting interests held in check during the campaign period begin to emerge. The Thieu-Ky relationship is being subjected to strain heightened, I fear, by the entourage of each in their attempt to promote their own interests and positions.
This has centered around differences of opinion between them regarding appointments to Cabinet posts and Ky’s own responsibilities in the new government. These problems were discussed at a meeting of the inner circle of Generals with Thieu and Ky last Monday.2 The issues were not resolved then and it was agreed that another meeting would be held on Saturday, the 16th.3
The post of Prime Minister is still open. Thieu informed me yesterday that he had offered the post to Tran Van Huong who had turned it down, Thieu said, on the ground that he did not want to serve with Ky. Thieu expressed some relief that Huong had refused since he believed that Huong would find it difficult to work as a member of a team. He is now looking for a capable civilian, a Southerner, preferably a Buddhist, to fill the position. Ky is still insisting on Nguyen Van Loc whom Thieu does not feel has either the stature or the capacity for the job. We are inclined to agree with his estimate.
The other matter is Ky’s own role and responsibility in the government. He expressed to me this morning his keen disappointment that Thieu had not made any approach to him on this, and said that he had made it very clear when he accepted the Vice Presidential spot that he would not be content with being merely a figurehead for the next four years. If this were to be the case, he would return to the air force. I have constantly urged Thieu to be forthcoming in regard to his relationship with Ky and have said that I would expect that he [Page 792]would make good use of Ky’s energy, abilities, and talents. I have suggested to him, for example, that Ky might be given responsibility for coordination of all of the pacification programs within the government. Yesterday I urged Thieu and this morning Ky to get together and work out this problem openly and frankly between themselves.
One of the difficulties has been that members of their entourages out of self-interest try to exacerbate the rivalry. We have a report that at a meeting of the inner circle last Monday, Thieu and Ky agreed that they would dismiss any member of their entourages found to be spreading rumors designed to deepen the rift between them. We are following this matter closely, using both persuasion and some judicious pressure and I have confidence that this can be worked out by the Vietnamese themselves just as the problem of the single military ticket was resolved last June.
Both Thieu and Ky are in agreement that the government must be given a new face and that it must put forward a dynamic program which will enlist the enthusiasm and support of the people. In this connection we are developing a statement of suggested policies and programs which we intend to put in their hands for use in preparation of a statement or declaration to the people of the new government’s program.4
After all the time and effort that went into the preparation and organization of the Presidential and Senate elections, it is not surprising that they have continued to dominate political developments during the past week.
As I reported on Sept 9 (Saigon 5550),5 I delivered your warm and encouraging message to Gen Thieu the previous evening. Substantial [Page 793]portions of your message have been prominently displayed in the Saigon press. Thieu himself has no reservations about the desirability of a broadly-based government with predominantly civilian representation, and is himself deeply involved in negotiations with his recent opponents to achieve this objective. He is fully aware of the complicated personal and political problems involved. In addition to the offer made to Huong, Thieu also said that he planned to sound out Phan Khac Suu on a post in the government though he felt this would have to be pretty much in an honorary capacity because of Suu’s physical and mental condition. In addition, Thieu told me he personally tried to find, among supporters of Huong, Suu, and Ha Thuc Ky, representatives whom they might suggest for government posts and who could be included.6

[Here follows discussion of additional political issues, the military effort, and pacification.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 7:28 a.m. A notation on the covering memorandum from Rostow transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President indicates that he received it at 5:30 p.m. and that the President saw it. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8B(1) [B]) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 160–167.
  2. September 11.
  3. See Document 332.
  4. In a September 10 memorandum to the Ambassador, Lansdale suggested ways to advise and assist the newly-constituted GVN. He cautioned against the application of direct pressure on the Vietnamese leadership due to nationalistic pride and political inexperience. He suggested that small, informal lunches between top Vietnamese and American officials would provide the best means for jointly deciding upon critical actions, which included cooperation between Thieu and Ky, formation of a broadly-based government with integral civilian participation, and removal of Corps commanders from political responsibilities. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8D 6/67–1/69, Mission Council Action Memos) Bunker also advised against applying too much pressure on the GVN leaders. In telegram CAS 254 from Saigon, September 9, he wrote: “I believe that they thoroughly understand this point, and, if anything, it has been made too often and too openly to them. There is only so much that the traffic will bear at any one time. I believe that further explicit pressure may be counterproductive and that we must leave to them the exact way in which they bring this about.” (Ibid., White House Cables-Back Channels-Incoming, Outgoing)
  5. In this telegram, Bunker reported that Thieu displayed “a slight sensitivity” when he read the part of the President’s letter relating to the creation of a broadly-based government. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 VIET S)
  6. As reported in telegram 5821, September 13, the previous evening Bunker discussed potential Cabinet members with Thieu. In addition, he broached the idea of an overture by the GVN to Hanoi. (Ibid.) In telegram CAS 358 from Saigon, September 14, Bunker cautioned that any such initiative had to be taken in close cooperation with the U.S. Government. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, White House Cables-Back Channels-Incoming, Outgoing)