Photograph via Xac Dinh
Devereux, Robert. “South Vietnam’s New Constitutional Structure.” Asian Survey 8, no. 8 (1968): 627-645.
As its title indicates, this article by Robert Devereux provides analyses of the provisions within South Vietnam’s constitution, which was promulgated officially by Nguyen Van Thieu on April 1, 1967 (p. 628). For anyone interested in exploring in-depth the function and structure of South Vietnam’s democratic system, Devereux’s article is a fantastic starting point.
Following the usual format, this brief blog article will only cover a few of the many important insights about South Vietnamese democracy covered in Devereux’s work. However, the points raised in this entry will be more than enough to prove the credibility of South Vietnam as a true and functional democracy.
To begin, Devereux’s article shows that in 1966, of the estimated population of 14.5 million people in South Vietnam, 5,288,512 were registered to vote, and 4,274,812 did just that. The day of the election was September 11, 1966, and these over four million people went to the polls to elect their new Constituent Assembly, which consisted of 117 members (p. 627).
One year following this important election, a formal presidential election took place on September 3, 1967, resulting in Nguyen Van Thieu’s election as the new President of the Republic of Vietnam (p. 628). Also on that day, 60 new Senators were elected to South Vietnam’s Upper House, and on October 22, 1967, another 137 representatives (called Deputies) were elected to the nation’s Lower House (ibid). In South Vietnam, elections were carried out by universal suffrage and secret ballot (p. 631), a point relevant here for clearly demonstrating the verity of South Vietnam as a democratic nation.
The major events above are mentioned in the introduction to Devereux’s article. The sections following then delve at great length into the various chapters and sections of South Vietnam’s constitution. Covered by Devereux in his article are the many provisions outlining the functions and powers of South Vietnam’s three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.
The Executive section talks about the powers of the President, the Prime Minister, and the Vice President, and their duties and responsibilities to the National Assembly and other government organs (p. 628-631). In the Legislative section, the process of introducing and approving bills is discussed, with details on how the Senators in the Upper House and the Deputies in the Lower House go through the process of making laws (p. 631-634). Lastly, for the Judicial branch section, the process of selecting judges to the Supreme Court in South Vietnam, as well as details of the country’s judicial process, are examined (p. 634-636).
In addition to these sections, Devereux’s article also talks about other important parts of South Vietnam’s government structure, as covered within the constitution. Specific offices and governmental organs, described as Special Institutions, are discussed (p. 636-640), as well as the functions of Local Administrations in South Vietnam (p. 640-641), and very importantly, in the Political Parties section, the guaranteed rights of opposition parties to form and operate in the Republic (p. 642-643).
Devereux moreover provides important insights on the human rights aspects of South Vietnam’s constitution. In the Bill of Rights section of the constitution, as summarized by Devereux, many statements are presented which guarantee and defend the rights of South Vietnamese citizens. Examples include a line from Article 6 of the constitution, which stipulates that the state is pledged to “respect human dignity, and the law every citizen’s freedom, life, property, and honor,” (p. 641). Furthermore, in Article 8, the document “guarantees the privacy of a citizen’s personal life, home, and correspondence…” and that “Freedom of thought, speech, press and publishing is guaranteed,” (ibid).
In addition to these provisions, the Judicial section previously mentioned also demonstrates many examples of the Republic’s adherence to the rule of law. Articles 7 and 8 of the South Vietnamese constitution express many guaranteed rights to protect its citizens, and include, but are not limited to, the following:
“Every defendant is entitled to a speedy and public trial and to a defense lawyer at every stage of the legal process, including the preliminary investigation.”
“No one can be arrested or detained without a warrant issued by a competent legal authority, except in cases of flagrante delicto.”
“No one can be tortured, threatened, or forced to confess, and any confession obtained by such means cannot be used as evidence.”
“Defendants will be considered innocent until found guilty; in case of doubt the court must find for the defendant.”
“No one can enter, search, or confiscate the property of a person without a properly executed court order, unless it is necessary for the defense of security and public order according to the spirit of the law.” (p. 636).
These provisions outlined clearly illustrate the democratic foundations in which South Vietnam was built. From the information above, it can be clarified that the Southern Republic was one that respected human rights, and one that championed the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens and the rule of law.
Evidences provided in this article clearly demonstrate that South Vietnam was a true liberal democracy. Proven throughout this post, through Devereux’s findings, is universal suffrage, secret ballot elections, a system of checks and balances in government, individual’s rights, constitutional rights, and multiparty democracy in South Vietnam.
For all of its challenges as a young and developing nation, the Republic of Vietnam had all the foundations, and met all the criteria of being a liberal democracy. Further study will continue to prove this fact. In terms of establishing a base for research on this topic, this source by Robert Devereux is an excellent place to begin.