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Context of 'July 1956: South Vietnamese President Blocks Unifying Elections'

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The Geneva Accords temporarily divide Vietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh’s forces in the north and Bao Dai’s regime in the south. The accords also call for elections to be held in all of Vietnam within two years to reunify the country. (Geneva Accords: Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam 7/29/1954) The US opposes the unifying elections, fearing a likely victory by Ho Chi Minh, and refuses to sign the Geneva accords. “If the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win,L the CIA notes. (Kolko 1985, pp. 84) And US President Dwight Eisenhower admits, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.” (Eisenhower 1994, pp. 372)

The US helps arrange a national referendum between Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. Diem “wins” 98.2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, a total of 605,000 votes are cast despite there being only 405,000 registered voters. (Herring 1986, pp. 55)

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, backed by the US, successfully blocks the unifying elections that had been set by the 1954 Geneva Accords, which the US refused to sign (see 1954). It is widely believed that Ho Chi Minh would have easily carried the elections (see 1954). This would have been an unacceptable outcome for the US. (Herring 1986, pp. 55)

The policies of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem create concern in Washington when Diem’s government intensifies its repression of the Buddhists and clamps down on the press. Also worrisome to his US backers are rumors that he is considering unification with the North. (Herring 1986, pp. 96; Prados 11/5/2003) When the Kennedy administration learns that a group of South Vietnamese generals are planning a [second] coup attempt, the decision is made to provide them with support. (National Security Council Staff 8/28/1963 pdf file; US Department of State 10/25/1963 pdf file; National Security Council Staff 10/29/1963 pdf file; US President 11/1/1963 pdf file; Prados 11/5/2003) “President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the US response might be, by withdrawing US aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally. In addition, at several of his meetings Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning.” (Prados 11/5/2003)


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