50th Anniversary: South Vietnam’s 1967 Presidential election

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By Bob Hall and Amy Griffin

Counterinsurgency campaigns are essentially politics with guns. Unlike conventional war, victory in counterinsurgency campaigns rarely comes through military action. Instead, although military action remains a key component of any campaign, counterinsurgencies tend to be resolved politically or diplomatically. This was well understood by the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the National Liberation Front, during the Vietnam War. Le Duan, a leading member of the Communist Party Central Committee in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and instrumental in directing the insurgency in the south, stated that:

Military struggle coupled with political struggle is the fundamental form of revolutionary violence in the South, and the combination of the two is the fundamental rule of revolutionary war.[1]

Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap and other leading lights in the DRV agreed. They emphasised the need to gain and maintain the political support of the people if there was to be any chance of the insurgency successfully overthrowing the government in the south.[2] The authors of the Australian Army’s doctrine for the conduct of what it then called Counter Revolutionary Warfare, had no quarrel with these opinions. The doctrine asserted that

A revolutionary war, unlike a war between sovereign states, is an internal struggle without fronts or frontiers to seize control of the government of a country. … The main part of the struggle is political. Counterinsurgency operations are simultaneously political and military in their nature. There is no purely military solution.[3]

Yet despite the central role of politics in the struggle, the literature of the Vietnam War often has little to say about political developments in the Republic of Vietnam, and what is said is often distorted. Overwhelmingly, the vast historical literature of the war, most of which originates from the United States, focusses on combat operations, US politics and the lead-up to the war, withdrawal, and US domestic reaction to the campaign. Australian histories of the campaign tend to follow a similar pattern from an Australian perspective. The political struggle – the ‘main part’ as far as the Australian doctrine was concerned – while mentioned, is seen very much as a ‘minor part’ of the struggle.

The shift of the Republic of Vietnam away from dictatorship towards democracy was a major part of the political struggle during the campaign. 3 September 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Vietnamese Presidential election. This was the first major election under the new democratic constitution of 1 April 1967. It marks a major anniversary in the political struggle. This brief article aims to describe the election and its significance to the campaign.

Political turmoil

Following the 1963 coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem, there followed a period of political turmoil in the Republic of Vietnam. Table 1 below shows the series of personalities and their duration in office as the Republic attempted to find a stable political base from which to coordinate its efforts against the Viet Cong and elements of the People’s Army of Vietnam.

Table 1: Political instability – Republic of Vietnam

President/Premier Duration in office
Ngo Dinh Diem (murdered in 1963 coup) 1954-63
General Duong Van Minh 86 days
General Nguyen Khanh 260 days
Tran Van Huong 84 days
Nguyen Xuan Oanh 19 days
Phan Huy Quat 112 days
Nguyen Cao Ky/Nguyen Van Thieu 1965 ….

Ngo Dinh Diem had exercised power through the constitution of 1956. However, as Table 1 shows, following his murder in the coup of 1963, there were a succession of mainly military dictatorships with often hastily drawn up charters providing constitutional authority. In August 1964 power was transferred to a civilian authority, but this proved ineffectual. In June 1965 yet another charter transferred power to a group of generals led by Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky. A National Leadership Council consisting of ten military officers with Major General Nguyen Van Thieu as chairman was created. The council named Ky Prime Minister with Thieu as Chief of State.[4]

Nguyen Van Thieu

With strong support and encouragement from the US, the Ky/Thieu administration began to move towards the creation of a democratic system. President Lyndon Johnson either directly, or through his foreign affairs advisors and the American Mission in Saigon, strongly urged that the Republic should move to a free and fair electoral process. Prime Minister Ky and Chief of State Thieu supported this democratisation and in January 1966 Ky announced plans for his government to develop a democratic constitution and to hold national elections to select Vietnam’s first truly representative government.[5] The political risks involved were considerable. Drafting a constitution and holding free and fair elections in the midst of an insurgency in which the National Liberation Front claimed to control ‘three-quarters of the people and two-thirds of the country’ and battles raged within a few dozen kilometres of the national capital, demanded uncommon political courage.

Nguyen Cao Ky

The importance of Vietnam introducing free elections was stressed at the Honolulu Conference on 7 and 8 February 1966. The dialogue concerning the conduct of free and fair elections began to take concrete shape when, in March-April 1966 the Vietnamese National Political Congress met to plan moves towards a democratic state. A Decree of 14 April announced that an election would be held for a National Constituent Assembly to draft the new democratic Constitution. New electoral laws were also to be drawn up.

The requirement to convert the Republic of Vietnam to a democratic state was essentially twofold. First, all of the citizens of the Republic, including the vast peasant population, had to be drawn into the political struggle; to find a political voice for themselves and to ease the levers of political control out of the hands of the military and the Saigon elite. This was an important requirement if the Republic was to survive the insurgency and introduce social and economic reforms, such as land reform, that cut across the interests of the elites. Second, the people of the United States would not long accept the loss of American lives to prop up a dictatorship. At his inauguration address in 1961, President John Kennedy famously stated

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.[6]

But liberty, in so far as it includes the free expression of the political will of the people through democratic processes, had been lacking in the Republic of Vietnam. The Republic needed to show that it was a state worth saving.

The National Constituent Assembly

Once elected the National Constituent Assembly was tasked with the job of drafting the new democratic constitution for the Republic of Vietnam and new electoral laws. This new constitution was a foundational document that cut directly across the aims and aspirations of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (NLF), which desired the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule. It had to be resisted by them.

As D Company 6RAR fought the battle of Long Tan in the pouring monsoonal rain on 18 August, 40 kilometres away in the Australian embassy in Saigon, embassy staff had been keeping the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs informed about developments with the Vietnamese National Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for 11 September, just 23 days after the famous battle.[7] Preparations for the election were well advanced, but there was ‘a growing body of evidence’ that the VC would attempt to disrupt the election and they had already begun to threaten and intimidate candidates and electors.[8] In fact, the VC had begun their campaign against the National Constituent Assembly election in April, five months before polling day, and their opposition to it had grown more virulent and violent as the weeks passed.

Despite the NLF’s efforts to disrupt the election, it took place as planned on 11 September 1966. Nationally, about 4.3 million Vietnamese, or over 81 percent of registered voters, cast their ballot at a polling booth despite the Viet Cong launching 295 attempts to sabotage the election between 31 August and 11 September. In Phuoc Tuy province, voter turn-out was 36,702, representing 89.4 percent of registered voters.[9] Australian diplomatic staff believed the communists had suffered a political defeat. They had mounted a campaign to ‘crush’ the election but it had failed. Their frequently stated claims to control three-quarters of the population had been shown to be false.[10]

With the election out of the way, the National Constituent Assembly settled down to its task of drawing up a new democratic constitution for the Republic of Vietnam. It was given six months to complete this task. The drafting committees consulted the French, American, Japanese, and Korean, constitutions and were provided with advice from the United States.[11]

The New Constitution

The draft constitution was duly handed down. After a period in which it was reviewed and modified by the executive branch of government, the final version of the constitution was handed down on 1 April 1967. This date henceforth became the date on which the President delivered a ‘state of the nation’ address. With the US providing advice and encouragement to the Assembly, it is not surprising that the final constitution tended to reflect the US political system in some respects.

The new democratic constitution established a strong executive branch of government balanced by a legislature consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives. The President was the head of the executive branch, was elected for a four-year term, and could serve two terms. The Prime Minister was appointed by the President and nominated a cabinet which was then appointed by the President. Legislative power resided in the National Assembly which consisted of two houses; a 60-member Senate (or Upper House) and a 137-member House of Representatives (or Lower House).  Senators were elected from a single electorate consisting of the whole nation. They had six-year terms with a half-Senate election every three years. Members of the House of Representatives (or Deputies) were elected for four-year terms. Each province or autonomous city elected one or more Deputies depending on its population size.

The constitution was resolutely anti-communist. It stated at Article 4 that ‘The Republic of Viet Nam opposes Communism in any form, [and that] every activity designed to publicize or carry out communism is prohibited’.[12] It was also resolutely anti-corruption. It established a powerful and independent Inspectorate with responsibility to identify and weed out corruption wherever it was found. The Inspectorate was independent of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government and could propose disciplinary measures against persons found guilty of corruption. The President, Legislature and Supreme Court each appointed six members to the Inspectorate’s 18-member panel thus ensuring that the Inspectorate remained independent of any of the three arms of government. These 18 members elected their own Chairman. Corruption was widespread in Vietnam and it would remain to be seen how effective the Inspectorate would be in defeating, or at least reducing it. Still, the creation of an independent Inspectorate with considerable powers to investigate and punish offenders was a significant step forward.

Developments after the Constitution was handed down

On 7 April 1967, only a few days after the new constitution had been handed down, H.D. Anderson of the Australian Embassy in Saigon interviewed Dr Nguyen Luu Vien, the Deputy Premier, about the recent political developments. Dr Vien was worried that whereas civilian candidates for the presidential election were numerous, the military would present a single candidate. Thus the civilian candidates would split the vote among themselves. Vien said that he had suggested that instead of using a ‘first past the post’ system, the electoral law should provide for preferential voting.

Otherwise [he said,] the successful presidential candidate would probably get no more than 35 per cent of the vote, with the rest fragmented among 4 or 5 other candidates. There would thus be no clear majority for the future president, and international critics of South Vietnam could say that only a minority of the electorate had voted for him. If preferences were distributed to decide the issue between the two leading candidates, it would be possible to point to an absolute majority.[13]

In May, over four months before the presidential election, Australian Embassy staff also interviewed General Thieu concerning his thoughts about the forthcoming election. Thieu’s expectations aligned with Vien’s analysis that the winning candidate was likely to receive only about 30 percent of the vote and those who opposed the government would exploit this fact to claim the government was unrepresentative. Thieu felt that this claim could be offset to some extent by referring to the nature of elections in the DRV.[14] Thus, well before the election, both Vien and Thieu expressed concern that the ‘first past the post’ electoral system introduced by the National Constituent Assembly would result in the president receiving about 30 percent of the vote, less than an outright majority, and that this would be exploited by those who opposed the Saigon government.

Dr Vien had also expressed concerns that the military would back particular candidates, namely Ky and Thieu. But two days after his interview, the Vietnamese Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Cao Van Vien, announced that the armed forces was not a political party and therefore would not nominate a candidate for the presidency. Thieu and Ky, both senior military officers, would have to run as private citizens.[15]

The Presidential election campaign

The official beginning of the election campaign was 3 August 1967. Eleven slates, each consisting of a candidate for the Presidency and a candidate for the Vice Presidency, competed for election. Not surprisingly, the search for peace was the main election issue. Of the eleven presidential slates, nine rejected outright any negotiations with the NLF, but sought attempts to have the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) negotiate at the conference table. If these negotiations failed to eventuate, they preferred continuing the war. One slate favoured the unlikely plan of winning the war, including liberation of the north, by military means. Only one slate, that of Truong Dinh Dzu and Tran Van Chieu, favoured unconditionally ending the fighting and opening negotiations with the NLF. The Dzu/Chieu slate had used a white dove – the symbol of peace – as their icon.[16]

Other issues attracting support during the election were the fight against corruption, protection and expansion of civil rights especially freedom of the press, the merits or otherwise of military government, improving living standards, developing the national economy, and improving social services such as health and education.

A Saigon election rally underway. Representatives of the competing slates sit waiting for their turn to address the crowd while, crowded onto a small stage, one of the slates puts its case for election to the people.

Polling day: The Presidential Election of 1967

On polling day, 3 September 1967, Vietnamese citizens came out and voted in overwhelming numbers at the 8,824 polling stations spread throughout the country. Of all registered voters, 83.3 percent voted. All but about 3 percent cast a valid vote. Some provinces had very high voter turnout, topping 93 percent.[17] By comparison, voter turnout in the US Presidential election of 1964 was 61.4 percent, and in the 1968 election which brought Richard Nixon to the presidency, the voter turnout was 60.7 percent. With a violent political struggle underway in their country, politics was important in the Republic and the opportunity to participate in a democratic election was broadly appealing to Vietnamese citizens.

As Vien and Thieu had predicted months earlier, the winning slate (that of Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky), won the election with 34.8 percent of the vote. The winning slate was unable to win more than 50 percent of the vote and thus claim to represent the majority of citizens. The ‘runner up’ was the Dzu/Chieu slate which attracted 17.2 percent of the vote. Two other slates – those led by Phan Khac Suu and Tran Van Huong – attracted 10.8 percent and 10 percent of votes respectively. Had the civilian slates of Dzu, Suu, and Huong been able to bury their political differences and combine their efforts they may have been able to out-poll the Thieu/Ky slate and take the presidency. The remaining votes were spread across another seven slates.

A woman casts her ballot in the 1967 Presidential election

Because the Dzu/Chieu slate advocated ending the fighting and opening negotiations with the NLF, it was thought it may have attracted votes from citizens who supported, or were under the influence of the Viet Cong. In a small number of provinces in which the Viet Cong exerted strong control, such as Quang Ngai, Hau Nghia and Binh Duong provinces, the Dzu/Chieu slate out-polled the Thieu/Ky slate.[18] However, whereas the Dzu/Chieu slate out-polled the Thieu/Ky slate in five provinces, the Thieu/Ky slate out-polled the Dzu/Chieu slate in 46 provinces and autonomous cities. In Vietnam: A History, Stanley Karnow claims that of those who voted for the Thieu/Ky slate, most were in ‘outlying districts where local commanders managed the political contests’, seeming to imply that the military was responsible for Thieu’s political victory.[19] However this does not seem to be borne out by the polling data. Thieu strongly out-polled Dzu in central areas such as Saigon and Gia Dinh where the election was subject to particularly close scrutiny by international observers.[20] The Thieu/Ky slate also out-polled the Dzu/Chieu slate in every province and autonomous city in Corps Tactical Zones I and II, comprising some of the most remote parts of South Vietnam, except for Quang Ngai province. Contrary to Karnow’s assertion, Dzu’s strongest provinces seem to have been those most remote and most under the influence of the communist insurgents.

In Phuoc Tuy Province there had been 50,768 registered voters. Of those, 43,534 had voted. The winning Thieu/Ky slate received 15,705 votes while the Dzu/Chieu slate received 12,002 votes.

The vote took place under the scrutiny of hundreds of observers including journalists and official observers drawn from 24 countries. Staff members of the US Embassy in Saigon observed the election and the US also sent a panel of 22 observers including three Senators, three Governors, two mayors, two veterans, a unionist, two business representatives, two religious representatives, and five representatives of the US news media. Also accompanying the observers were three academics with expertise in elections, representatives of the Department of State, and a representative of the White House.[21] On their return to the United States these observers met with President Johnson to discuss their views of the election they had just witnessed. The observers were of diverse political views and some acknowledged scepticism about the elections before their departure from the US. Despite this, on return to the United States they were unanimous in their assessment that the election had been free and fair. Governor Richard Hughes, a Democrat, said the election had been ‘clean’. He had spoken to about 200 election officials, peasants, village chiefs, and others and found them enthusiastically embracing the election. Governor Tom McCall, a Republican, said that the election met the standards of free and fair elections and the election rated favourably with any state in the United States. Several others said that the elections compared favourably with those held in the US.[22]

US election observers monitor the 1967 Presidential election on polling day

Many citizens of the Republic of Vietnam also believed the election had been free and fair. A post-election survey conducted in November/December 1967 revealed that the respondents felt they were adequately informed about the Presidential election, mainly from radio broadcasts. The great majority of urban and rural Vietnamese were aware of who had been elected President and Vice President, but most were unable to name a single senator, although most recalled that they had voted for candidates for the Senate. Most people expected that benefits would flow from the election, but were vague on exactly how – their comments appeared to reflect hopes rather than expectations. Finally, a huge majority felt the elections were conducted fairly and they encountered few difficulties in voting. Of those interviewed, 90 percent said they voted. In fact, the nationwide voter turnout had been slightly less at 83 percent.[23]

Following the election, the new cabinet was installed and the new government began to function on 9 November. Writing in late November, Deputy US Ambassador Eugene Locke briefed President Johnson about his impressions of the new government. It was ‘reasonably competent, honest and dedicated’, he said, but

Political parties as we know them will take time to emerge. … some alliances were emerging in the Senate and the House, but it is too early to know where they will lead. The Senate gives signs of being a responsible body, but the House is less certain and more fragmented at the present time.[24]

The new government was still unsettled, with many Senators and Representatives newly elected and unfamiliar with their roles. A little over two months later this immature and unsettled government would face a major challenge with the Tet Offensive of 1968.

NLF and DRV response to the election

During the weeks preceding the election, the objective for Headquarters II Field Force Vietnam, 1ATF’s superior headquarters, was to provide maximum support to South Vietnamese military and civilian officials who sought to maintain an atmosphere conducive to successful National elections. Unit operations were based on specific requests from Republic of Vietnam officials and were closely coordinated between Vietnamese officials and unit commanders. Although there were numerous acts of terrorism and temporary interdiction of Lines of Communication by the enemy throughout the III Corps Tactical Zone, these failed to sabotage the national elections. Eighty percent of eligible voters in III Corps Tactical Zone participated in the election, marking the achievement of a major objective.[25]

In the period 1 to 5 September, straddling polling day, there had been a predictable increase in enemy-initiated incidents. There had been ‘58 road interdictions, 17 terrorist acts and 56 attacks on RF/PF outposts’, but despite numerous such minor incidents, the Viet Cong had been unable to make major attacks aimed at disrupting the elections. Their road interdiction efforts had resulted in temporary disruption, but road traffic had continued to flow. Voter turnout had not been significantly impeded and operations by Free World Military Assistance Forces and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam had successfully achieved this outcome.[26]

Captured documents dated 17 March 1967 showed that the Viet Cong had, even at that early stage, developed a plan to disrupt the election using violence and intimidation. The documents called for attacks against those conducting the election or campaigning for it. A typical incident occurred on 7 August 1967 when an armed VC squad penetrated into Dat Do, concentrated a number of people in the Primary School and lectured them about the evils of the coming elections. The Viet Cong said they would mortar, throw grenades, and set up explosions at voting booths. A military campaign was to accompany this program. It would include reinforcing village guerrilla units to assassinate hamlet administrative cadres, conduct terror attacks against political meetings, attacking, shelling, mortaring posts in isolated areas to break up security forces on polling day, and conducting a terror campaign using mines and bombs against polling booths. They would also destroy bridges, and build road-blocks to stop voters getting to the polling booths. Local guerrillas were to stop the people using isolated roads, gather them into groups, and take them into the jungle to prevent them from voting.[27]

In Phuoc Tuy Province the enemy’s activities against the Presidential election, which had been building in the preceding weeks, came to a head on polling day. In Long Le District, beginning at 0330 hours, enemy sniper fire wounded two National Police Field Force members and peppered the police station with small arms fire. Seven rounds of mortar fire were lobbed into the Phuoc Hoa village post and small arms fire hit the polling station at Phu My village. In Duc Thanh District the VC detonated mines and destroyed the polling station at Ngai Giao village, also damaging tables and chairs for the polling station officials. In Long Dien District a VC platoon used a Browning Automatic Rifle and sub-machineguns to attack a squad of National Police who were protecting the polling station at Tam Phuoc village. In Dat Do District the VC fired three rounds of 60 mm mortar fire into Hoi My village and Hoi An hamlet, the latter incident seriously wounding a child. Meanwhile, a VC was killed by RF/PF soldiers when they fired on a group of VC building a roadblock between Phuoc Loi and Dat Do.[28]

The Troung Dinh Dzu affair

Troung Dinh Dzu had come second in the race for the presidency. Shortly after the election he was charged, found guilty, and sentenced to six-months imprisonment, plus awarded a substantial fine, for passing bad cheques and holding an unauthorised bank account in the Bank of America in San Francisco. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker wrote to President Johnson that

Several reputable Saigon lawyers to whom we have spoken feel that substantial evidence exists that Dzu is guilty as charged, and one of them feels Dzu could have escaped with a fine had he appeared in court. While we had originally anticipated that there might be some outcry charging Government ‘persecution’ of Dzu, this has not happened. Dzu does not enjoy a very high personal reputation, and Phan Khac Suu, for example, told an Embassy officer September 18 that he considered Dzu guilty as charged.[29]

Bunker warned Thieu, that Dzu might be seen as a martyr in some circles as a result of his status as runner-up. Although the initial reaction was subdued, it was not long before the febrile nature of Vietnamese politics whipped the issue of Dzu’s imprisonment into a broader denunciation of the election outcome. Although unable to provide much supporting evidence, failed candidates claimed the election was rigged. They demanded that it be annulled and a new election be called. They pointed to some minor voting irregularities, none of which would have changed the outcome, and among other things, to Dzu’s imprisonment, as evidence.

The idea that Dzu had been thrown into prison by Thieu on trumped-up charges because he was a political threat, took hold and passed unedited from the murky world of Vietnamese politics into history. For example, in Vietnam: A History, Stanley Karnow generally attacks Thieu as having ‘performed miserably … mustering only 35 percent of the votes’ and of his performance being ‘astonishingly poor’, before claiming that

Embarrassed to have had such a runner-up [as Dzu], Thieu promptly arrested him on charges of illicit currency transactions, a felony for which half the Saigon population could have been indicted.[30]

But there seems little evidence to support Karnow’s view. The ‘first past the post’ voting system plus the large number of slates contesting the election had caused the result that Karnow attributes solely to Thieu’s performance. Months before the election, Thieu himself (and Dr Vien) had acknowledged the voting system plus the number of competing slates would result in the winning candidates receiving about 30 percent of the vote. In any case, Thieu had comfortably won the election, was installed as president for the next four years, and held a handsome lead on Dzu. Dzu’s policies had attracted the support of only about 17 percent of voters and won him only five of the Republic’s 50 provinces and autonomous cities. Thieu had little to fear, in political terms, from Dzu.

If Dzu was a political embarrassment, it was more likely because he had committed various offences and had stood for election to the presidency. As the 1967 constitution and electoral laws show, the Republic of Vietnam was attempting to create a democracy, establish the rule of law, and, as best it could, eliminate corruption. To have ignored Dzu’s flouting of the law would have had the rule of law fall at the first hurdle. Research continues into this issue, but it seems likely that Dzu’s charge, trial, and imprisonment was motivated by the need to adhere to the law and to be seen to be taking action on the corrosive effects of corruption, rather than any embarrassment Thieu might have felt.[31] While half the Saigon population might have been involved in illicit currency transactions as Karnow claimed, unlike Dzu they were not standing for the presidency of the Republic.


The Presidential election of 1967 began the process of moving the Republic of Vietnam towards democracy. No one suggested that the process was finished, but the election had made a start. The levers of power had to be taken out of the hands of the generals and the Saigon elite, and passed to the control of the people. This change towards democracy, which remained unfinished, was potentially a greater revolution than that proposed by the communists. They, after all, sought to impose yet another version of rule from above under which Vietnam had laboured for centuries. The social and economic reforms that the Republic of Vietnam needed to implement, if it was to be successful in providing a viable and attractive alternative to the communists, required that power should be shifted to the people. The military and the Saigon elites were unlikely to quietly accede. The new president had to find a broader base of political power before progress could be made in these spheres. But the memory of the Diem years constrained Thieu. He feared that building a political party of government would be too reminiscent of the Diem regime and this caused him to proceed too cautiously in this direction.

The election had proceeded despite the efforts of the Viet Cong to discourage participation through propaganda and the threat and use of violence. The high voter turnout showed that the Viet Cong did not control ‘three-quarters of the population’ as their propaganda claimed. A political victory, of sorts, had been achieved, but the inability of the Thieu/Ky slate to achieve greater than 50 percent of the vote denied the new president the ability to claim he represented the majority. The Thieu government’s claim to legitimacy remained weak. Failed candidates and the Dzu affair – or the media’s interpretation of it –  further undermined the legitimacy of the new government by attacking the validity of the election. While the long-term interests of the state required the failed candidates to accept the decision and form a loyal opposition, they instead chose to recklessly pursue their own political interests.

Despite these difficulties, the election ushered in a period of relative political stability. There continued to be dissatisfaction with the Thieu regime, and political upheavals, including growing differences between Thieu and Ky, rippled through the Republic’s life from time to time. But the Thieu regime remained in power from election day on 3 September 1967 to 21 April 1975, a few months short of what would have been Thieu’s maximum of two four-year terms allowed under the constitution of 1 April 1967.


[1] Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution: Fundamental Problems, Essential Tasks, foreign languages publishing house, Hanoi, 1973, p.65.

[2] See Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh: Selected Writings 1920-1969, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Hanoi, 1973, p. 151 and Robert J. O’Neill, General Giap: Politician and strategist, Cassell, Melbourne, 1969, p. 64.

[3] The Division in Battle, Pamphlet no. 11, Counter Revolutionary Warfare, 1965, Military Board, Army Headquarters, Canberra, 1 March 1966, p. 25.

[4] Major General George S. Prugh, Vietnam Studies: Law at War, Vietnam 1964-1973, Department of the Army, US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 22.

[5] Texas Tech University, Virtual Vietnam Archive, (hereafter TTU VVA) item number 0010133018: Development of Democratic Processes. Memorandum for the President, 14 August 1967.

[6] President John F. Kennedy, inauguration speech, 20 January 1961.

[7] It is possible that the enemy had multiple aims in the battle of Long Tan, one of which may have been to assert the National Liberation Front’s political dominance in Phuoc Tuy province in response to the newly arrived Australian force. Other violent acts against the election occurred at this time including the detonation of a bomb on 18 August at a political rally in Hue. See National Australian Archives (hereafter NAA), A4531, item 201/2/1/1 Part 1, Saigon – Vietnam elections – 1966.  Letter, Mr R.R. Fernandez, Counsellor, Australian Embassy Saigon, to The Secretary Department of External Affairs, Canberra, 1 September 1966, ‘Viet Nam: Constituent Assembly Election’.

[8] NAA, A4531, item 201/2/1/1 Part 1, Saigon – Vietnam elections – 1966. Cablegram, Australian Embassy Saigon, to Department of External Affairs, Canberra, 18 August 1966, ‘Viet-Nam: Elections’.

[9] NAA, A4531, item 201/2/1/1 Part 1, Saigon – Vietnam elections – 1966. Cablegram, Australian Embassy Saigon to Department of External Affairs, Canberra, 12 September 1966.

10] NAA, A4531, item 201/2/1/1 Part 1, Saigon – Vietnam elections – 1966. Cablegram, Border, Australian Embassy Saigon to Department of External Affairs, Canberra, 13 September 1966, ‘Commentary on constituent Assembly Elections’.

[11] Major General George S. Prugh, Vietnam Studies: Law at War: Vietnam 1964-1973, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 43.

[12] Constitution of the Republic of Viet Nam, Unofficial Translation, The Vietnam Council of Foreign Relations, Saigon, 1967, p. 5.

[13] NAA, Series A4531, item 201/2/1/2A Part 1, Saigon, 1971 Presidential Elections. Discussions with Dr Nguyen Luu Vien, Deputy Premier, 7 April 67, H.D. Anderson

[14] NAA, Series A4531, item 201/2/1/2A Part 1, Saigon, 1971 Presidential Elections. Cablegram Australian Embassy Saigon to Department of External Affairs, 27 May 67.

[15] Saigon Post, 9 May 67. ‘No armed forces bet for Presidency: Vien’

[16] Each slate had an icon to assist illiterate Vietnamese to identify their preferred candidates.

[17] TTU VVA, Item 2390609005. Vietnam Report VII: The Presidential Election, September 3, 1967, Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam, Washington D.C.

[18] TTU VVA, Item 2390609005. Vietnam Report VII: The Presidential Election, 3 September 1967, Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam, Washington, D.C.

[19] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, Pimlico, London, 1994, p. 466.

[20] In Saigon, the Thieu/Ky slate attracted 135,527 votes and was narrowly defeated by the Huong/Truyen slate which attracted 137,962 votes. The Dzu/Chieu slate attracted 87,670 votes.

[21] TTU VVA, Item 0010132008. Memorandum for the President: Viet-Nam Election Observers, Saturday 26 August 1967.

[22] TTU VVA, Item 0241411016. For the President: Meeting with Vietnam Election Observers in the Cabinet Room, 6 September 1967.

[23] Harry D. Latimer, Monograph on National Security Affairs, U.S. Psychological Operations in Vietnam, Brown University, Providence, September 1973, p. 82.

[24] TTU VVA, Item 0010224004. Cablegram, For the President from Locke, Saigon 25 November 1967.

[25] Australian War Memorial, (hereafter AWM) series 103, item R723/1/2, Reports – Monthly Evaluation (Moneval). HQ II FFV Monthly Evaluation for September 1967.

[26] AWM103, item R723/1/2, Reports – Monthly Evaluation (Moneval). HQ II FFV Monthly Evaluation for September 1967.Ibid.

[27] AWM98, item 261, HQ 1ATF, Enemy Anti-Election Activity. Field Information Report, 9 August 67 and 10 August 1967.

[28] AWM98, item 261, HQ 1ATF, Enemy Anti-Election Activity. Field Information Report, 3 Sep 67

[29] Weekly cable report, For the President from Bunker, Wednesday, 20 September 1967.

[30] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, Pimlico, London, 1994, p. 466. Others hold similar views. See for example, A.J. Langguth, Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975, Touchstone, New York, 2000, p. 457.

[31] Dzu had the dubious distinction of having been gaoled by the Republic of Vietnam in 1967 and also by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1978. Unlike the Republic of Vietnam, the communist regime, according to Bui Tin, imprisoned Dzu ‘without any corroborating evidence, let alone a trial’. See Bui Tin, Following Ho Chi Minh: Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel, translated from the Vietnamese and adapted by Judy Stowe and Do Van, with an introduction by Carlyle A. Thayer, Crawford House, Bathurst, 1995, p.94. Bui Tin claims that Dzu’s main electoral support came from students and intellectuals, not the masses.


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