by Christof Hartmann
Vietnam, formally divided into a northern and a southern part between 1954 and 1976, was involved in military conflict for most of its history as an independent state. Although the constant warfare did not prevent the regular holding of elections since the mid-1950s, it did shape and limit the meaning of popular elections. The specific electoral provisions changed considerably over the years, but elections served always the main purpose of legitimizing the political regimes of the day. The popular approval of national offices and the claims of free and fair elections were part of the ideological competition between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the Republic of (South) Vietnam. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), established with the re-unification in 1976, has maintained the leading role of the Communist Party and holds single-party elections regularly.
Since the late 19th century Vietnam had been a French colony (in its southern part) and a protectorate (in its northern section). In 1941 it was occupied by the Japanese, who re-established Emperor Bao Dai as legitimate ruler. After the removal of French administration in the North, the Vietnamese section of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), led by Ho Chi Minh, —united with non-communist forces—emerged as the leading political force under the name League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or simply Viet minh). On 2 September 1945 Bao Dai abdicated and Ho Chi Minh became President of the new provisional government, simultaneously declaring the independence of the DRV. The new government tried to gain some democratic legitimacy by organizing elections in January 1946. In the aftermath of World War II, Nationalist Chinese and British troops took control of the territory, and the British eventually allowed France to recover her territories. Whereas in the North the Viet minh began what became a protracted guerilla war, the French met little resistance in the