Category Archives: South Vietnam

South Vietnam

Historic cases of semi-presidentialism – South Vietnam

I think the most surprising example of semi-presidentialism that I have come across so far is the case of South Vietnam from 1967-75. Obviously, this period of the country’s history is better known for the ongoing conflict, but in the domestic context South Vietnam operated for a short period of time with a semi-presidential constitution.

In 1966 South Vietnam held elections for a Constituent Assembly. As far as I understand it, the elections were relatively free and fair. The Assembly, a constitutional committee, and the government were responsible for drawing up a constitution, which was finished by the end of March 1967. The constitution was promulgated on 1 April 1967 and the first presidential election was held on 3 September 1967. General Thieu was elected president in an election that, again, I understand to have been held relatively freely and fairly.

Article 52 made provision for a President and Vice president, who were elected on a single ticket. Both served for a four-year term.
Article 58 stated that the president appointed the prime minister and Article 67 (2) stated that the prime minister was responsible to the president. So, this was a president-parliamentary form of semi-presidentialism.
Article 42 (1) stated that the National Assembly had the right to recommend the replacement of the government by a two-thirds vote. Article 42 (2) stated that the president had to accept the recommendation unless there were “special reasons” for doing so. If the president rejected the recommendation, Article 42 (3) stated that the Assembly could still insist of the replacement of the government by a three-quarters majority. So, South Vietnam was clearly semi-presidential.

Obviously the operation of semi-presidentialism was overshadowed by the war. However, there one particularly interesting aspect to South Vietnamese semi-presidentialism. In May 1968 Tran Van Huong was appointed as prime minister. He had been one of president Thieu’s opponents at the 1967 presidential election. His appointment was a sign that President Thieu’s position was not secure, despite his election and despite the constitution, which appeared to give the president a predominant position.

For Polity, South Vietnam scored -3 from 1967-75. So, it was not a partial democracy. However, Freedom House, whose recording begins in 1972, classed South Vietnam as Partly Free from 1972-74 inclusive. Democracy then collapses with the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam under the communists in 1975.

The reunification of Vietnam saw a new constitution and so, in 1975, South Vietnam’s semi-presidential experiment came to an end.

The experience of South Vietnam represents another example of semi-presidentialism in Asia. In addition to the current semi-presidential countries in that region – Mongolia, Taiwan, Timor-Leste and South Korea, though my reservations about classing it as semi-presidential have been noted elsewhere in this blog – there was also the case of the Philippines. So, Asia has a considerable amount to tell us about the operation of semi-presidentialism and its different sub-types.

Much of the information for this entry was derived from the yearly reviews in Asian Survey for the years in question and from the commentary in Flanz’s Constitutions of Countries of the World for this constitution.