State of Vietnam Referendum, 1955 - Counting and Results

Counting and Results

Diệm's government formulated procedural regulations ostensibly designed to ensure results and ballots were correctly accounted for and to prevent election fraud. In reality however, the votes were counted without independent supervision, which resulted in Diệm being credited with 98.2% of the vote. The prime minister tallied 605,025 votes in Saigon, although only 450,000 voters were registered in the capital. Diệm's tally exceeded the registration numbers in other districts. French newspapers claimed that only half of the registered voters in Saigon had actually voted, and that the rest had boycotted the election, implying that more than 60% of the votes in the capital were not authentic. Defenders of Diệm claim this was due to recently arrived, mostly Catholic, refugees from North Vietnam who voted without being enrolled, rather than large-scale ballot stuffing.

Diệm's regime had announced that 5,335,668 people were eligible to vote, but when the results were declared, there were 5,784,752 ballots. Diệm's government claimed his candidacy had been endorsed by the mother of Bảo Đại, although Diệm had ordered the military to confiscate her family's property and evict her from the land. The near unanimous voter turnout and support for Diệm was replicated in highland and Mekong Delta swamp areas, which were not even under the control of the government and its Vietnamese National Army. In some districts of the Mekong Delta, overwhelming tallies for Diệm in excess of 90% of the registered voters were recorded, even though the Hòa Hảo warlord Ba Cụt and his army had prevented voting.

The referendum was widely condemned for being fraudulent. Historian and writer Jessica Chapman said "Even Diệm apologists like Anthony Trawick Bouscaren and American CIA officer Edward Lansdale concur with the prime minister's harshest critics on the conclusion that the South Vietnamese government was either incapable of or unwilling to hold a truly free, representative plebiscite". A CIA report written in 1966 adjudged the poll to be the most heavily manipulated in the first 11 years of South Vietnam's history. The U.S. government privately concluded that the monopoly Diệm had on the media and the election campaign was a greater factor in the victory than intimidation and the fact that the voting was effectively public. Reinhardt cabled Washington, saying that the "referendum proved resounding success for Diem government". He indicated that the poll results were not necessarily a reflection of reality by adding that the result did not show that Diệm had majority support but that he was able to control the country, effectively unchallenged. The U.S. government was heartened by Diệm's apparent ability to negate communist and other opposition.

The scholar Bernard B. Fall stated that "there is not the slightest doubt that this plebiscite was only a shade more fraudulent than most electoral tests under a dictatorship". The American journalist Stanley Karnow cited the dubious plebiscite as evidence of Diệm's "mandarin mentality". Chapman wrote that "... no amount of unilateral campaigning, anti-Bảo Đại sentiment, or Confucian political restraint could explain Diệm's 98 percent margin of victory in a politically heterogeneous South Vietnam. Corruption and intimidation must have played a significant role." Buttinger said that while the monarchy was "another rotten relic of Vietnam's past" and Bảo Đại "its last, unworthy representative", fraud and intimidation were unnecessary as Diệm would have won easily in any event. Historian David Anderson said the victory "was not a true representation of Diệm's power or popularity. The emperor's weakness, the disarray of the political opposition, and other such factors explain his triumph".

Choice Votes %
Monarchy 63,017 1.09
Republic 5,721,735 98.91
Invalid/blank votes 0
Total 5,784,752 100
Registered voters/turnout 5,335,668 108.42
Source: Direct Democracy

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