Since the “Workers’List” formed by cooperation of the Indo-China Communist Party and a Trotskyite group won seats on the Saigon Municipal Council in 1933 and in subsequent years, the Saigon Municipal Council election in 1933 has been considered as a major turning point in the radicalization of Vietnamese nationalism in southern Vietnam. Previous studies have claimed that the reason that the Saigon Municipal Council elections were the greatest success for the “Workers’List” in the 1930s was that in Indo-China only the Saigon Municipal Council adopted direct universal (male) suffrage.
However, the electoral system and the true nature of Saigon Municipal Council elections have not been sufficiently investigated in previous studies. This article focuses on the Saigon municipal electoral system and examines its structural features.
The Saigon Municipal Council was founded in 1869. Until 1881, foreign residents who had not acquired French citizenship were excluded from the Saigon Municipal Council election; there were two electoral colleges called the French Electoral College and Indigenous Electoral College. Throughout the French colonial period, the ratio of French representatives to indigenous representatives was fixed at 2:1, although this did not actually reflect the population ratio. In short, the unequal state continued.
In spite of having adopted “direct (male) universal suffrage,” the number of registered adult Vietnamese voters was extremely small and the voter turnout was low. The percentage of the registered eligible voters in 1919 is presumed to have been about 12.7%, and throughout the twentieth century, the voter turnout was consistently less than 50% of registered eligible voters.
The Saigon Municipal Council election was thus conducted by universal suffrage; the possibility of becoming registered voters through residential registration or registration in an electoral register was open to all male adults. Therefore, in election campaigns, candidates had to gear their election promises to appeal not only to a few people who eagerly participated in the election but also to many potential registered voters.
In 1930s, the Saigon Municipal Council became a place of political strife between the Constitutionalist Party and “Workers’ List.” It can be said that as early as 1920s, the Saigon Municipal Council elections had already included a possibility that it would become a site for class struggle among the Vietnamese residents of Saigon.