Courtesy Reuters

The Other South Vietnam: Toward the Breaking Point

The situation in South Vietnam grew perceptibly more fluid in 1971. With the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces, the reverses suffered by the South Vietnamese troops in southern Laos in the spring and the political crisis of the autumn, the Saigon régime weakened and "Vietnamization" was dealt a hard blow. The structure which had stood for three years buttressed by American military power revealed its fragility at the very moment when public opinion in Vietnam and in the United States was showing ever- increasing war-weariness. As the American grip gradually loosened, unrest spread in a society overwhelmed by the disorder of the times, for which war had become a way of life. Even before the American military engagement was definitely coming to its end, the rhythm of public life had begun to change. It was as if South Vietnam were preparing to search-with much effort and difficulty, to be sure-for a new balance.

II

The institutions established in 1967 confronted their first real test in the presidential election of October 1971-a test which they did not pass with any noticeable success. The Constitution was flouted by the adoption of a bill designed to set aside the candidacy of Vice President Ky, who since the beginning of 1971 had acted as a catalyst in the political arena. When General Duong Van Minh withdrew from the contest, however, a fresh manipulation of the law by the Supreme Court was unable to revive Ky's candidacy. At this point, President Thieu preferred-with resigned American acquiescence-to maintain his now unique candidacy for the presidency; thus he was perfectly prepared to offend a majority of the voters, beginning with the Catholics. Perhaps the régime would have fared no better in a genuinely contested election. In any case, the imposing percentage (94.3 percent of the votes cast) to which Thieu treated himself strengthened neither his position nor the credit of a Constitution which the population had hardly been allowed to take seriously. The question, in fact, was not whether

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