The State of Vietnam referendum scheduled for 23 October 1955 determined the future form of government that was to become the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). It was contested by Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm, who proposed a republic, and former emperor Bảo Đại. Bảo Đại had abdicated as emperor in 1945 and at the time of the referendum held the title of Head of State.
In a position of new-found strength after successfully defeating the
Bình Xuyên organised crime syndicate along with the religious/communist sects Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo, Dân Xã Đảng and Liên Minh, Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm refused to enter into talks with North Vietnam concerning the 1956 election to unify the country as stipulated by the Geneva Accords and instead called for a South Vietnam national election in October.
On 26 October, Diệm won the election and became President and Commander-in-Chief of the new Republic of Vietnam (RVN) winning 98.2% of the votes, a figure which was widely regarded as fraudulent. In the period leading up to the vote, campaigning for Bảo Đại was banned, while Diệm’s election campaign focused on personal attacks against Bảo Đại. These included pornographic cartoons of the head of state and unverified rumours claiming he was illegitimate and linking him to various mistresses. The government-controlled media launched polemical attacks on Bảo Đại, and police went door-to-door, warning people of the consequences of failing to vote. After Diệm’s brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, successfully rigged the poll Diệm was credited with over 605,000 votes in Saigon, even though only 450,000 people were on the electoral roll. He accumulated tallies in excess of 90% of the registered voters, even in rural regions where opposition groups prevented voting.
The referendum was the last phase in the power struggle between Bảo Đại and his prime minister. Bảo Đại disliked Diệm and had frequently attempted to undermine him, having only appointed him because he was a conduit to American aid.