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Monday, March 30, 2020

The state structure and legislation of former Saigon regime

Updated: 14:04’ - 25/02/2011

>>Vietnamese state: its structure and operation during the anti-American war period (1954-1975)

Pham Diem

The State and Law Research Institute


Throughout 21 years of their aggressive war against Vietnam, the US neo-colonialists resorted to all means, military, diplomatic, economic, political, to build up a strong and stable puppet regime whitewashed with fake democracy and independence in South Vietnam as an instrument to materialize their schemes. Such administration existed in various forms: civilian; military; civilian - military; civilian - military- political parties.

I. Brief history of Saigon administration's establishment and existence

This process can be divided into three stages:

1/ The Ngo Dinh Diem administration labeled as "The First Republic" (1954-1963).

Under the 1954 Geneva Agreement on Vietnam, the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam regrouped to the North (from the 17th parallel northward) while the French troups moved into the South before going home. By then, South Vietnam had remained to be a colony where occurred a fierce power struggle between the US neo-colonialists and the French colonialists, which lasted from July 1954 to July 1956. This was also a process where the French's puppet administration of King Bao Dai was replaced by the US's puppet regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. Such a struggle between a war loser trying to hang on to their interests and an international gendarme having great economic strength and treacherous schemes was seen in all domains-political, economic, military and diplomatic-, at various levels, inside and outside the country.

During the last three months of 1954, outside the country, the US conducted a series of negotiations on the position of strength, compelling the French to give way. Meanwhile right inside South Vietnam, the US pressured the French and Head of State Bao Dai to let Ngo Dinh Diem remain as Premier. The US and Ngo Dinh Diem clique resorted to all means to oust military personnel close to the French, replacing them by officers loyal to them. After firmly grasping the army and police, on July 17, 1955 Diem declared there should be no consultation for election to unify Vietnam as provided for by the Geneva Agreement. On October 23, 1955, under the US direction, Diem organized a "referendum" under the army gunpoints, dethroning Bao Dai and making Diem the President of South Vietnam. So, the last stronghold of old colonialism was blotted out.

After ousting the French from South Vietnam and taking their place therein, the US and Ngo Dinh Diem concentrated on strengthening the puppet army and administration, switching their focus to suppressing the revolutionary movement. On October 26, the Ngo Dinh Diem administration promulgated a provisional constitution, establishing the socalled "the Republic of Vietnam" with the setting up of the constitution-drafting committee, thus tearing up the Geneva Agreement. On March 4, 1956, the Diem administration held a legislative election and on October 20, 1956 the newly elected parliament passed the constitution of the Republic of Vietnam, which was signed for promulgation on October 26 the same year by Ngo Dinh Diem with a view to legalizing the US-backed administration. Meanwhile, the US and Diem administration tried to consolidate their ruling apparatus in localities. Militarily, by the end of 1956 they had built up an army with dozens of infantry divisions and many independent regiments under the U.S. direct control. American advisors were placed everywhere including the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Defense, the General Department of Police, ministries, even army units and local administrations.

With the support and direction of US advisors, the Ngo Dinh Diem administration concentrated on suppressing the revolutionary movement in South Vietnam. The "10/59" (October 1959) Law was promulgated, outlawing the former resistance fighters and opposition forces. Campaigns of denouncing and annihilating communists were launched throughout South Vietnam, with hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries and innocent people being murdered.

The Ngo Dinh Diem administration, often called "The First Republic", was a civilian administration in form but a nepotic dictatorship in its nature. Due to their failure to cope with the vigorous development of the revolutionary movement in South Vietnam and to the strong resistance by the opposition forces against the Ngo family, the US had to change horse midstream.

2/ The period when the army took power (1963-1967)

With the US pulling the strings from behind the scene, a group of army officers on November 1, 1963 staged a coup d'etat, murdering Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. A revolutionary military council was set up with General Duong Van Minh as the Head of the State and General Nguyen Ngoc Thoi as the Premier. On November 4, 1963 the Council promulgated a provisional constitution (Number 1).

On January 30, 1964, another coup, often called a "restructuring", took place, toppling Minh's men and instating General Nguyen Khanh as the Premier and Army Commander-in-Chief. The Revolutionary Military Council was then called the Military Council which promulgated the provisional constitution No.2 on February 7, 1964, then a Charter on August 16, 1964.

On August 27, 1964, the Military Council was restructured with a three-head mechanism: The Head of State (Minh), the Premier (Khanh) and the Minister of Defense (Tran Thien Khiem). However, such mechanism did not exist long when Khanh ousted Minh and Khiem from the administration.

On October 24, 1964, under the pressure of the US and opposition forces, Khanh had to leave the administration, and Phan Khac Suu took the position as the Head of the State and Tran Van Huong as the Premier. On October 26, 1964, the Military Council promulgated a provisional charter. And on January 25, 1965, the Military Council replaced Tran Van Huong by Phan Huy Quat.

From 1965 on, the Council was headed by Nguyen Van Thieu, and Nguyen Cao Ky, two army generals who enjoyed the US support. On June 6, 1966, the Military Council toppled the civilian administration of Phan Khac Suu and Phan Huy Quat, setting up the National Leadership Committee with Nguyen Van Thieu as its President and the Central Executive Committee with Nguyen Cao Ky as its Chairman (Premier); and on September 11, 1966, Thieu and Ky organized a legislative election.

Generally speaking, during the period from the end of 1963 to early 1967, the Saigon administration was in fact a military one wrecked by unstability and power struggle among military officers.

3/ Nguyen Van Thieu administration- the Second Republic (1967-1975)

On March 18, 1967, the then parliament of South Vietnam passed the constitution which was signed for promulgation on April 1, 1967 by Nguyen Van Thieu in his capacity as the President of the National Leadership Committee, giving rise to the Second Republic.

On September 1, 1967, the Saigon regime held the presidential and senatorial elections while members of the House of Representative were elected on October 1, 1967. The President and the Vice-President were no one but Thieu and Ky.

So, the Second Republic was a military administration disguised in a civilian cloak and sometimes a military - civilian administration plus political parties.

In face of the 1975 general offensive and uprising staged by South Vietnam people and army, President Thieu fled the country and the Saigon administration put Duong Van Minh in Thieu's place, hoping to prolong the moribund of the Second Republic of South Vietnam.

II. The structure of the Saigon administration apparatus

The State apparatus of the former Saigon regime (excluding several years when the army took power) was completely structured after the model of the American State, namely the presidential republic.

Both constitutions of the Saigon administration clearly stated the separation of the three powers, prescribing in Article 3: "The three bodies, legislative, executive and judicial, must be clearly defined with separate responsibilities and separate powers. The operations of the three public agencies must be well coordinated and regulated."

1/ The Parliament

Being the legislative body, the parliament of the former Saigon administration was organized with only one house during Ngo Dinh Diem's tenure and two houses (the house of representatives and senate) during Thieu's time. Under the 1967 Constitution, congressmen, both representatives and senators, were elected through universal suffrage with a four-year term of office for a representative and a six-year term for a senator, and half of the total number of senators were elected every three years.

Also under the 1967 Constitution, the Parliament had the following powers:

- Passing laws.

- Ratifying international treaties and agreements.

- Deciding on war or peace.

- Supervising the Government in the implementation of national policies.

- Proposing a partial or complete replacement of the cabinet by 2/3 of the total number of house representatives and senators. If the President had no special reasons to reject the proposal, it became effective. In cases where the President vetoed the proposal, the Parliament could decide on the proposal with three-fourths of the total number of representatives and senators voting for it.

2/ The President

Both the 1956 and 1967 Constitutions provided that the President was elected by people with a 5-year term of office and great executive powers such as:

- Promulgating laws.

- Elaborating national policies.

- Appointing the Premier and other members of the Government; partially or fully replacing the cabinet (on his own will or at the request of the Parliament).

- Appointing ambassadors, chiefs of provinces and cities.

- Chairing the Council of Ministers.

- Being the general commader-in-chief of the army.

- Being the chairman of the National Security Council.

- Signing and promulgating international treaties and agreements.

- Declaring the state of emergency and curfew through decrees.

3/ The Supreme Court and court system

Under both the 1956 and 1967 Constitutions, the judicial power was independent from the executive power and assigned to the Supreme Court and exercised by trying judges.

With 9 judges selected by the Parliament and appointed by the President for a 6-year term of office, the Supreme Court had the following powers:

- Explaining the Constitution and deciding on the constitutionality of codes, laws, decrees, resolutions, decisions, etc.

- Deciding on the dissolution of a political party which advocated policies and actions against the Republic.

A decision of the Supreme Court on the unconstitutionality of a law, a decree... or on the dissolution of a political party had to be approved by three-fourths of the total number of its judges.

At the central level, in addition to the Supreme Court there existed the Special Court which was consisted of the President of the Supreme Court and 10 congressmen (including house representatives and senators) and had power to depose the President, the Vice-President, the Premier, ministers and judges of the Supreme Court if they were accused of treason or other serious offences.

At the local level, there were common and special courts. The common court system comprised the court of appeal, the criminal court, the first-instance court, the conciliation court and the common nuisance court. The special court system embraced the administrative court, the labor court, the land court, the junior court, the ethnicity court and the court martial (including the frontline courts martial and the permanent courts martial).

4/ The local administration:

The local administration system of the former Saigon regime was consisted of the provincial/municipal administration, the district administration and the commune/ward administration, which were all often headed by military officers.

Generally, the former Saigon administration was structured with the two following prominent features:

1.- The President held great powers, not only the executive powers but also some legislative and judicial powers. The 1956 Constitution permitted the President to demand the Parliament reconsider and re-enact already passed laws with the names of all pros and cons being clearly stated in the second voting (Article 58). The President also had the power to invalidate any laws in case of emergency (Article 44). The 1967 Constitution also gave the President the power to sign international treaties (Article 59) or to demand the Parliament reconsider already passed laws (Article 45). Particularly, both Constitutions permitted the President to issue decrees, a form of legal document with legislative character, in case of emergency.

With all important positions in the central and local administration being held by military officers, the former Saigon State was nothing but a militarist dictatorship.

2.- The entire administration and army of the former Saigon regime were placed under the US direction. In South Vietnam, the US built up a State within a State, first of all with the US embassy being considered "the US Whitehouse on the western coast of the Pacific" where lines, policies and measures from Washington were passed out for implementation. Besides, there also were in South Vietnam the US Military Aids Command in Vietnam (USMACV), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) network, the US Agency for Economic Development (USAED) and a network of US advisors at all levels of the puppet administration and army.

III. Legislation of former Saigon regime

Unlike the form of administration which was structured after the US model, the legislation of the former Saigon regime was modeled after the French.

1/ Situation and form of legislation

Under the First Republic of Ngo Dinh Diem, apart from the Constitution, several laws were promulgated such as the Law on the Family comprising 135 Articles on marriage, the wife-husband relationship, separation, children, out-of-wedlock children; the 10/59 Law providing the establishment of special courts martial in Saigon, Buon Ma Thuot and Hue to try offenders of serious crimes of "undermining or infringing upon the national security, the lives and property of people". In fact, the second law created legal basis for the murder of revolutionaries through campaigns of denouncing and annihilating communists.

And under the Second Republic, the legislative work was enhanced. In addition to the 1967 Constitution and laws, President Nguyen Van Thieu on December 20, 1972 signed the promulgation of 5 codes and laws:

- Decree No.026/TT/SLU promulgating the Penal Code.

- Decree No.027/TT/SLU promulgating the Penal Procedure Code.

- Decree No.028/TT/SLU promulgating the Civilian Code.

- Decree No.029/TT/SLU promulgating the Commercial Law.

- Decree No.030/TT/SLU promulgating the Civil and Commercial Procedures Code.

Besides, various decrees were also promulgated by the President.

In short, the former Saigon administration attached importance to the legislative work so as to legalize and consolidate the regime, regulate and protect the social relations in the then colonial and neo-colonial society. Its legal system was fairly complete with various law branches and diversified forms of legal documents.

2/ Some typical legal documents

a/ The 1967 Constitution:

It contained the preamble and 9 chapters with 117 articles.

Chapter I: The basic provisions, prescribing the political regime and basic issues thereof.

Chapter II: Citizens' rights and obligations

Chapter III: Legislative body

Chapter IV: Executive bodies

Chapter V: Judicial bodies

Chapter VI: Special institutions (Special Tribunal; Supervisory Board, the Military Council, the Culture and Education Council, the Socio-Economic Council, the Ethnicity Council).

Chapter VII: Political parties and opposition forces

Chapter VIII: Constitutional amendment

Chapter IX: Transfer provisions

So, the Constitution contained three main types of provisions:

- The provisions on the political regime (Chapter I), aiming to whitewash the republic as "an independent and unified country" with "the national sovereignty belongs to the people. The Constitution, in its Article 4, outlawed the communists.

- The provisions on citizens' rights and obligations. The Constitution listed in detail the citizens' rights and obligations as well as restrictions on the exercise of such rights.

- The provisions on the organizational structure of the State apparatus, which accounted for the largest number of part of the Constitution.

b/ The 1972 Penal Code:

This was the only penal code of the former Saigon administration, which contained 493 articles arranged in 4 volumes. Among the offenses prescribed by the code, the political crimes were given special treatment right in volume II and severely dealt with.

The penalties prescribed in the penal code were classified into two: the principal penalty and the auxiliary penalty.

The principal penalty ranged from death sentence, life imprisonment, exile, limited hard labor, to detention, fine, administrative sanctions. The auxiliary penalty included the stripping of rights (the right to vote and to stand for election; the right to practice occupation...), property sanction (confiscation of property, compensation...).

So, the penal code not only aimed at protecting the social order and security but also created legal basis for the protection of the neo-colonial regime.-



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