S. Korea's Ruling Party Ready to Push for Reforms, Leader Says

Times Staff Writer

Roh Tae Woo, new chairman of President Chun Doo Hwan's ruling party, said Thursday that he hopes to help Chun carry out his goals of "expanding autonomy (in local government), openness in society, and the general trend toward liberalization." But he would not say what specific reforms the party will support.

Roh, widely regarded as Chun's probable successor, said in an interview with foreign reporters that the ruling Democratic Justice Party "should stop regarding opposition parties as enemies," and that he agrees that the results of the Feb. 12 National Assembly election show that "the people are crying out for reforms while desiring a continued maintenance of stability."

Roh said he is prepared to hold discussions with the New Korea Democratic Party, the new leading opposition party that emerged in the election, "any time they are ready" but ruled out a meeting in the near future with either Kim Young Sam or Kim Dae Jung, the two most prominent opposition leaders.

Both Kims were among 14 politicians for whom Chun on Tuesday lifted a nearly five-year ban on political activity. However, Kim Dae Jung is still forbidden to run for office or to join or organize any political party because of a suspended 20-year jail sentence on a sedition conviction.

Issue of Direct Vote

Although he would not discuss specific reforms, Roh said he is willing to discuss "any topic which is of interest to the people" with the New Korea Democrats after they appoint new leaders, expected within the next month. Not all such discussions will produce reforms, he said, because "there are certain problems which will be difficult to resolve in a realistic way."

One such issue, he said, would be the opposition's demand for direct election of the president. This would require revision of Chun's constitution, implemented during martial law in 1980, which prescribes an indirect election through an electoral college.

"We have to try out our constitution at least during the first term of a president. . . ," Roh said. "Once a new president has been elected (in 1988) under the present constitution, we can start talking about constitutional change."

Roh said in the interview that Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, "like a deep-sea diver emerging from the ocean depths, need time to adjust to the change in the environment" that he said has occurred since Chun purged them in May, 1980.

'A Lot of Progress'

"The two Kims have been claiming there has been a retrogression in Korean democracy. . . ," Roh said. "But the reality is that there has been a lot of progress. Conditions might be ripe (for a meeting) when they change their perspective. . . . If the conditions are ripe, there is no reason why I can't meet them."

He said that "it is too early to comment" on whether Chun might give Kim Dae Jung, the opposition's 1971 presidential candidate, a pardon or an amnesty to relieve him of the 1980 sedition conviction and thus restore his full political rights.

Roh, 52, was one of Chun's classmates at the Korean Military Academy and his principal supporter in his 1980 rise to power. Thursday's interview was his first with foreign reporters since Chun appointed him Feb. 22 to run the daily affairs of the Democratic Justice Party.

Roh is believed by many observers to be the leading candidate to succeed Chun in 1988, when the constitution specifies that the former general must step down.

But when asked in Thursday's interview about his plans for 1988, Roh would say only, "It is not appropriate for me to answer that kind of question."

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