Nguyen Cao Ky

From Academic Kids

Nguyen Cao Ky (Nguyễn Cao Kỳ) (born 1930) is a Vietnamese politician, who served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and then Vice President until his retirement from politics in 1971.

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A career soldier who eventually became commander of the South Vietnamese air force, Ky had little political experience or ambition. Under the regime of Duong Van Minh , whose coup Ky had supported, he was made general.

In 1965 Ky was appointed Prime Minister by a special joint meeting of military leaders following the voluntary resignation of civilian President Phan Khac Suu and Prime Minister Phan Huy Quat. South Vietnam's system of government shifted to that of a strong prime minister, with General Nguyen Van Thieu, becoming a figurehead president. Against the expected odds, Ky proved to be a strong leader and was able to remain in power. Unlike past leaders, he was able to unite the military under his leadership and resisted coups.

Ky's primary agenda while in power was to eliminate the massive levels of corruption that had existed in all levels of Vietnamese society, especially government and the military. Several high profile business leaders accused of corrupt practices were executed during his reign, intended to serve as an example to others. For his part, Ky prided himself on being "uncorruptable" and refused to accept bribes on many occasions. During his premiership he made many state visits to other nations in an attempt to bolster South Vietnam's legitimacy as a sovereign nation. Ky's greatest struggle came in 1967 when a military revolt in the government of Da Nang threated to escalate into widespread chaos.

The country's first, and debatably only, free Presidential elections were held in 1967 . The military government council, which Ky chaired, intended to only endorse one candidate for the presidency. Ky intended to run, but at the last minute changed his mind and backed Thieu, a move he now calls "the biggest mistake of my life." Thieu nominated Ky as his running mate and the two were elected with 38% of the vote.

1967-1971 he served as Vice President to President Nguyen Van Thieu, although behind the scenes there was a fierce rivalry between the two men that left Ky marginalized from the decision-making process. He considered running against Thieu when he ran for re-election in 1971, but instead retired from politics, convinced that the Thieu-dominated administration would never allow anything close to a fair election.

Kys withdrawal from the race left Thieu as the sole candidate for the elections: According to some sources, the "sham elections" of 1971 was the main reason why many - including US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger - lost any remaining illusions that credible democratic institutions could be established in South Vietnam.

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For three years Ky retired from politics and lived in a farm commune in the Vietnamese countryside. He returned as a military commander in 1975 as the military forces of Communist North Vietnam closed in on the South. Many military leaders hoped he would be re-appointed as Prime Minister in this time of crisis, but President Thieu, still distrustful of Ky, refused.

Life in Exile

After the defeat of South Vietnam by North Vietnam in 1975, Ky fled to the United States, and settled in California. He made headlines in 2004 by being the first South Vietnamese leader to visit Vietnam since the war.

Ky was well-known for his flamboyant and colorful personality and dress. His trademark fasion accessory was a purple scarf and he was rarely seen without a cigarette. A purported "ladies man," Ky was married twice and fathered six children.

Ky's daughter, Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen (Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Duyn), is a well-known personality in the overseas Vietnamese entertainment industry.


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