Phan Quang Dan
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.
Dan hailed from the north central province of Nghe An Province
. He was an American trained OSS (now CIA
) agent iduring the second World War. 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 Bao Dai
and Hong Kong
. There during 1947 and 1948, he was an advisor as Bao Dai attempted to negotiate a return to Vietnam with the French. When a Provisional Central Government was established in 1948 with Bao Dai’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 Bao Dai and then Ngo Dinh Diem
cabinets is disputed. Dan said that it was due to Diem being appointed by Bao Dai, but the government maintained that it was because he was holding out for a more important ministry.
Diem era career
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.
Election and disbarring
In August 1959, Dan ran for the National Assembly in a constituency in Saigon
and was elected by a 6-1 ratio over 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
In 1966 he was elected to the National Assembly and unsuccessfully contested the 1967 Presidential election. He then became foreign affairs minister and later as deputy Prime Minster 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