It was on this day in 1955 that the last Emperor of Vietnam was removed as "Chief of State" of the French-sponsored State of Vietnam based out of Saigon and struggling to survive against the communist revolutionaries in Hanoi. After an epic, heroic defeat at Dien Bien Phu the French were forced to pull out of Southeast Asia and the U.S. began to take over their job of defending the area. In the north, the government and people were united by a totalitarian regime, in the south Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem was unifying the region, but making alot of enemies doing it. He appointed his family to most high offices, sent military troops after dissidents and Communist insurgents and promoted Catholic moral values. He turned against the Binh Xuyen gang in a street war, though the group had been sending Bao Dai a percentage of their profits to maintain their status. Diem would not tolerate this. When word reached Emperor Bao Dai in France he immediately decided to remove Diem from office.
Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem knew this was coming. He was also supported by the American Colonel Edward G. Lansdale (member of the OSS, forerunner of the CIA) who urged him to replace the "State" that seemed like a monarchy but technically was hard to categorize with a more "American style" republic, which the people in the United States would be more willing to support. On October 6, 1955 the Ministry of the Interior announced that a referendum would be held to depose Bao Dai in favor of Ngo Dinh Diem and replace the "State of Vietnam" with a republic. The Emperor denounced this decision, and said such on the 13th in a note to the French government and the Paris embassies of Britain, the United States, Russia and India. On the 18th Emperor Bao Dai announced the dismissal of Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister and the revocation of all powers he had previously granted him. The next day he told the Vietnamese people he did this because, "police methods and personal dictatorship must be brought to an end, and I can no longer continue to lend my name and my authority to a man who will drag you into ruin, famine and war". However, the Emperor was in France and Colonel Lansdale had been using funds from the C.I.A. to bribe government officials and buy support for Ngo Dinh Diem. He also attempted to have one of the Emperor's most loyal supporters assassinated but when the attack failed, the government silenced the issue. None of it was probably necessary. The Emperor had been associated with the French for so long, and had been away from Vietnam for such lengthy periods that his government never really had any grass-roots support. Ngo Dinh Diem could have undoubtedly won without the use of any strong-arm tactics. However, in Vietnamese politics, regime-change was never about democracy but rather about power. Diem had it, Bao Dai did not.
When the referendum was held, Ngo Dinh Diem was in complete control of the polling stations and the entire voting process. Colonel Lansdale had also helped to give the would-be president an unfair advantage. He had the ballot cards for Bao Dai printed in green ink, the color of misfortune, and printed those for Ngo Dinh Diem in red, the color of good luck and prosperity. Those who did not understand the voting system were told by the troops at the polls to place the red ballots in the envelopes and throw the green ones in the trash. Those who persisted in trying to vote for Emperor Bao Dai were caught outside and assaulted by the soldiers. Some were severely beaten, others had water forced down their throats or hot sauce poured up their nose. In retrospect many said that Bao Dai never had a chance of winning even a fair election. However, this was a matter of principle for Diem who wanted to send a clear message to the country and the world as to who was in charge. A life-long monarchist (at least until now) Diem wanted a display of power as well as 'democratic progress'. When the votes were counted Ngo Dinh Diem claimed victory by 98%. Colonel Lansdale advised him to lower the number to a more realistic percentage, after all, anyone with experience in democracy knows that winning 98% of the electorate is unheard of. This advice was refused and everyone knew the referendum to be fraudulent. In Saigon for example, Diem claimed to have received more votes than there were registered voters in the entire area.
Bao Dai had few choices after this development. With America in support of Ngo Dinh Diem, no one had even listened to his original objection over the holding of the referendum and he had no reason to believe that this would change now. Already the Americans were taking on a larger role in the war effort. Most of the government officials had been bribed into supporting the new president (though only temporarily as time would tell) and Bao Dai had no real avenue with which to protest the results. He also knew that any effort to contest the results of the referendum would only further fragment an already divided nation. Instead, he decided that his only choice was to accept defeat and abdicate once again as the Head of State for Viet-Nám. The Emperor made one last appeal as he left the political stage for peace and unity and for his successors in the Saigon government to give consideration to all parties in the national struggle. He then settled into a life in exile and watched from the sidelines as his country was torn apart. In 1965 he told the French writer Hilaire du Berrier, "If your government had given me one thousandth of the sum it spent to depose me, I could have won that war." Colonel Nicholas Thorne, the U.S. Marine Corps language specialist and authority on the central region of Annam, had said the same as early as 1959.
With the new Viet-Nám being called America's "Showcase for Democracy" Colonel Lansdale came home and left behind Colonel Albert Pham Ngoc Thao to replace him. After the war it was released that Thao had been a communist agent and his remains were removed to the "Heroes Cemetery" in Hanoi. As for Emperor Bao Dai, he was reduced to the life of a powerless exile. During his final years in politics the Emperor's reputation was ruined by the American media. The CBS bureau chief in Paris, David Schoenbrun, wrote a story in Collier's of September 30, 1955 regarding Emperor Bao Dai. He was more concerned with politics than factual journalism however, saying, "Diem must not only remove Bao Dai but must do it in such a way that he no longer has any usefulness as a symbol of Vietnamese unity". In this at least, it can be said that the efforts of advocates of the "third force" in Vietnam were entirely successful.