Following the collapse of French colonial administration in Vietnam in 1954, the country was temporarily divided, with Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in North Vietnam, and Emperor Bao Dai's State of Vietnam in the South. The Geneva Conference peace agreement ending the French Indo-China war included a provision for nationwide elections in 1956. Soon after the country was divided, Ngo Dinh Diem had proclaimed himself president of South Vietnam by means of a fraudulent election.
In July 1955, President Diem rejected the nationwide elections that had been agreed upon. According to then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. backed this refusal of nationwide elections because it believed that the Vietnamese people in a free election would vote for Ho Chi Minh to be the new president. Faced with a divided country with a government in the South backed by the U.S. military, Vietnamese people began a new insurgency led by the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF), concentrated at first in rural areas.
By the early 1960s, Diem ruled South Vietnam with a largely Catholic-dominated government: Catholic positions included members of the ruling Ngo family, more than half of the National Assembly, and most landholders. Even though South Vietnam's three to four million Buddhists made up nearly 80 percent of the population, they were discriminated against by the Catholic ruling elite.