Prospects for Democracy in South Vietnam

June 9, 1971

Report Outline
Uncertainties Amid coming Election
Political Development of Viet Nam
Chronology of South Viet Nam Politics, 1963–70
Effect of U.S. Withdrawal on Election
Special Focus

Uncertainties Amid coming Election

Importance of Presidential Election to U.S. Role

The issues are unclear and the electorate is cynical and apathetic. Yet, South Viet Nam's presidential election next October is a topic of concern and comment throughout the world. Much—including the overriding question of peace or a continuation of the war—is believed to be in the balance. Among other things, the vote will test the depth of democratic institutions in a republic proclaimed only 16 years ago. The election could validate or invalidate President Nixon's Vietnamization program. And it will be a test of President Nguyen Van Thieu's policies, including his decision to invade Laos earlier this year.

Less than four months before the election was due to take place on Oct. 3, 1971, Thieu had not said definitely that he would seek a second term. However, most observers did not doubt that he would. The only declared candidate for his office was Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky. Previously a hawk, Ky was making the dovish proposal that direct peace talks be started with the National Liberation Front, the so-called political arm of the Viet Cong. This is also the stand taken by the popular but hesitant Duong Van Minh, a retired four-star general who deposed the autocratic Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 and ruled Viet Nam for three months before he, too, was ousted in a coup d'état. Minh, known as “Big Minh” because at six feet he towers over most Vietnamese, has already been labeled the peace candidate but has yet to declare himself.

Rightly or wrongly, Thieu is regarded as the “American” candidate. Moreover, the nature of the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam is so deep that most western observers feel that the American candidate must win. Many of them—but not all—regard Thieu's re-election as virtually assured and are expressing regret in advance. They see a Thieu victory as an event likely to perpetuate the war indefinitely because Thieu has consistently rejected any notion of a coalition government in Saigon that would include Communists. They also see a Thieu victory being regarded by the world as evidence of American intervention in the election, despite official U.S. claims of keeping hands off.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Vietnam War
Feb. 18, 2000  Legacy of the Vietnam War
Dec. 03, 1993  U.S.-Vietnam Relations
Mar. 18, 1988  Vietnam: Unified, Independent and Poor
Jul. 06, 1984  Agent Orange: The Continuing Debate
Nov. 04, 1983  MIAs: Decade of Frustration
Mar. 11, 1983  Vietnam War Reconsidered
Oct. 21, 1977  Vietnam Veterans: Continuing Readjustment
Jan. 18, 1974  Vietnam Aftermath
Feb. 21, 1973  Vietnam Veterans
Jun. 09, 1971  Prospects for Democracy in South Vietnam
May 06, 1970  Cambodia and Laos: the Widening War
Jan. 07, 1970  War Atrocities and the Law
Jul. 02, 1969  Resolution of Conflicts
Apr. 17, 1968  Reconstruction in South Vietnam
Aug. 23, 1967  Political Evolution in South Viet Nam
Jan. 11, 1967  Rural Pacification in South Viet Nam
May 26, 1965  Political Instability in South Viet Nam
Mar. 25, 1964  Neutralization in Southeast Asia
Apr. 17, 1963  Task in South Viet Nam
Jun. 14, 1961  Guerrilla Warfare
May 17, 1961  Threatened Viet Nam
Sep. 23, 1959  Menaced Laos
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
U.S. at War: Vietnam