Phan Quang Đán

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Phan Quang Đán (b. 1918) was a Vietnamese political opposition figure who was one of only two non-government politicians who won a seat in the 1959 South Vietnamese election for the National Assembly. Subsequently, he was arrested by the forces of President Ngo Dinh Diem and not allowed to take his seat. The most prominent dissident during the rule of Diem, he is remembered more for his incarceration than his activities after Diem's fall, when he became a cabinet minister.

Early years[edit]

Dan hailed from the north central province of Nghe An Province. He was an American trained OSS (now CIA) agent during the second World War.[1] He studied medicine in Hanoi when he entered politics in 1945 following the collapse of the Japanese occupation. This ushered in a period of political ferment as Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh proclaimed the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and battled French Union forces who attempted to regain control of the country. He briefly joined the Vietnamese People's Party and the Great Vietnam Civil Servants Party before forming a newspaper based group. According to his account, he twice turned down Vietminh offers of a cabinet position in 1946 to follow Emperor Bảo Đại to China and Hong Kong. There during 1947 and 1948, he was an advisor as Bảo Đại attempted to negotiate a return to Vietnam with the French. When a Provisional Central Government was established in 1948 with Bảo Đại's blessing, Dan joined it as Minister of Information. He resigned after several months, citing the French reluctance to grant the government any powers to facilitate Vietnamese autonomy. In 1949, Dan formed his own group, the Republican Party (Cong Hoa Dang) and went abroad to study at Harvard Medical School while continuing his activities. The reason for Dan's exclusion from further Bảo Đại and then Ngo Dinh Diem cabinets is disputed. Dan said that it was due to Diem being appointed by Bảo Đại, but the government maintained that it was because he was holding out for a more important ministry.[2]

Diem era career[edit]

Dan returned to Vietnam in September 1955 when Diem was provisionally Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam. In October, Diem proclaimed himself the President of the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam and from then on, Dan was the centre of much of the open opposition to Diem's regime. First he headed a coalition of opposition groups which fought the government's arrangements for the 1956 election of a Constituent Assembly. The coalition had three component groups with government approval: The National Restoration League, the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party. Three months after the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the coalition collapsed when the leaders of the first two parties were jailed and the third party threatened into dissolution. Dan was briefly arrested on the eve of the 1956 elections, and accused by government controlled media of involvement in communist and colonialist activities. He had penned a letter to Diem in which he accused the regime of using dictatorial methods. He was then sacked by the government from his position at Saigon University's Medical School. Undeterred, he continued his political activities and in May 1957 formed another opposition coalition called the Democratic Bloc. The group had their own newspaper, the Thoi Luan. Its office was ransacked by a government organised mob in September 1957, and was closed down in March 1958 by a court order. Dan withdrew from the Democratic Bloc in April 1958 and the group collapsed as Dan sought to set up the Free Democratic Party and permission to publish a newspaper. Neither applications were approved, and various members of Dan's party were arrested for their political activities. In 1959, two newspapers were shut down after they published Dan's articles.[3]

Dan openly criticized the main platform of American economic development aid to South Vietnam, the Commercial Import Program. This allowed licensed importers to buy US dollars at rates far lower than the official exchange rate, and then buy American goods with it. Instead of importing capital goods to fuel industrialization, the money was mostly spent on consumer goods to create an urban upper-class loyal to the government.[4] Dan said "The U.S. Commercial Import Program—which costs us nothing—brings in on a massive scale luxury goods of all kinds, which give us an artificial society—enhanced material conditions that don't amount to anything, and no sacrifice; it brings luxury to our ruling group and middle class, and luxury means corruption."[5]

Election and disbarring[edit]

In August 1959, Dan ran for the National Assembly in a constituency in Saigon and was elected by a 1-6 ratio under Diem's government candidate. This came despite 8000 Army of the Republic of Vietnam soldiers being bussed from out of district to stuff ballot boxes to support the government candidate. He was regarded as a nationalist anti-communist who was one of the most able political figures in the country.[6]

Despite strong protests from the US and UK embassies, Diem was adamant that Dan would not be able to take his seat. When the Assembly was inaugurated, Dan was confronted by police and put under arrest as he attempted to leave his medical clinic to attend the session.[6] Dan was charged with electoral fraud, on the grounds that he supposedly offered free medical care to induce voters to support him. He also pointed out that if this were the case, then he would have run for election in the district in which his practice was located, to maximise the number of patients who were in his voting district.[7]

Imprisonment[edit]

In November 1960, a coup attempt by ARVN paratroopers was launched against Diem. As the attempt unfolded, Dan agreed to become a spokesperson for the coup leaders. He cited political mismanagement of the war against the Vietcong and the government's refusal to broaden its political base as the reason for the revolt.[8] Dan spoke on Radio Vietnam and staged a media conference during which a rebel paratrooper pulled a portrait of the president from the wall, ripped it and stamped on it.[9]

However, the plot leaders stalled their coup when Diem falsely promised reform. Diem then crushed the rebels and Dan was arrested, tortured and sentenced to eight years of hard labour in the penal colony on Poulo Condore where the French had once imprisoned Vietnamese nationalists. Were it not for western protests, Diem would have had Dan executed. As a result of the successful coup in 1963 in which Diem was deposed and assassinated, Dan was released from prison.[6]

Later career[edit]

In 1966 he was elected to the Constituent Assembly and unsuccessfully contested the 1967 Presidential election. He then became foreign affairs minister and later the deputy Prime Minister for social welfare and refugees. His most prominent role was to resettle thousands of displaced war victims and refugees. When South Vietnam fell in 1975, Dan left for the United States.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fall, p. 259.
  2. ^ Scigliano, pp. 82–83.
  3. ^ Scigliano, p. 83.
  4. ^ Kahin, pp. 85–88.
  5. ^ Kahin, p. 87.
  6. ^ a b c Warner, pp. 112–114.
  7. ^ Scigliano, p. 95.
  8. ^ Jacobs, p. 118.
  9. ^ Moyar, p. 114.
  10. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. ABC-CLIO. p. 327. ISBN 1-57607-040-9. 

References[edit]

  • Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-4447-8. 
  • Kahin, George McT. (1986). Intervention : how America became involved in Vietnam. New York City, New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-54367-X. 
  • Moyar, Mark (2006). Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965. New York City, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-86911-0. 
  • Scigliano, Robert (1964). South Vietnam: nation under stress. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Warner, Denis (1964). The Last Confucian: Vietnam, South-East Asia, and the West. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.