South Korean Opposition Will Insist on Direct Presidential Election, Kim Says
Kim Dae Jung, a behind-the-scenes leader of South Korea’s major opposition party, said here Saturday that his party will refuse to approve any revision of South Korea’s repressive constitution that does not include provisions for a direct popular vote for president.
In an interview, Kim also called for the United States to speak out in favor of constitutional reforms “reflecting the will of the people” and stop appearing to side with President Chun Doo Hwan against the opposition’s demands for a direct presidential election system.
He also said that Lee Min Woo, president of the New Korea Democratic Party, will tell Chun when they meet Tuesday that “a convincing” release of political prisoners is a prerequisite to the opposition party’s agreement to establish a constitutional reform committee in the National Assembly.
Kim acknowledged that an agreement Thursday between Lee and Roh Tae Woo, chairman of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, did not specify that the ruling party must agree in advance to accept direct presidential elections as a precondition for setting up the constitutional revision committee. But he said the New Korea Democratic Party, in debate on revisions, will refuse to accept any other form of choosing a leader to replace Chun in 1988.
Only through a presidential system can a civilian South Korean leader end military control of the government and prevent it from recurring, he said.
In South Korea, which lacks elected local officials and legislatures and in which “the president appoints everyone from the prime minister down to the lowliest village clerk, the opposition cannot win a parliamentary election,” Kim said.
“All of the nearly 1 million civil servants become campaign workers for the ruling party in a parliamentary election,” he charged.
Only with the opportunity to elect the president “by their own hands can the people rise up” by turning out in campaign rallies in big enough numbers to convince government officials that they cannot rig an election, he said.
In addition, the coup that overthrew a 1960-61 parliamentary government showed that a cabinet system “is weak against the military,” Kim said.
He said the opposition will insist on revisions that will sweep out all repressive articles in the constitution, not just the present indirect, electoral college, method of choosing a president. But he added that if agreement is not reached on a direct presidential election, “the other constitutional revisions won’t get off the ground.”
Kim criticized Secretary of State George P. Shultz for siding with Chun against a direct presidential election system by saying during a visit here in early May that democracy could be achieved without a direct popular vote.
Kim said American support for the opposition’s demand for a direct presidential election is neither needed nor wanted. The United States should, however, declare that Chun’s repressive constitution, implemented through a referendum held during martial law in 1980, should be revised to enable South Koreans to choose a leader through whatever system the people favor, he said.
“But Shultz, to the contrary of supporting whatever system the Korean people want, spoke out against a direct presidential election,” Kim charged.
In a news conference here May 8, Shultz declared, in a remark widely interpreted as condemning the opposition stand, “I think it is not particularly typical around the world that the leaders of democratic countries are put there by direct election.” He named the United States, Japan, and Britain as examples of countries that select their leaders indirectly.
Kim admitted that a joint announcement made by the ruling and opposition parties Thursday did not make it clear that the New Korea Democratic Party would insist on release of prisoners as a precondition to establishing the constitutional revision committee in a National Assembly session scheduled to last from next Thursday to June 24. But he said that he, Lee and Kim Young Sam, the other major leader of the party, had agreed that Lee would present the demand as a prerequisite when Lee meets Chun on Tuesday.
The opposition, he said, will not insist on release of all political prisoners, whose number was listed at 1,105 as of May 15 by a human rights committee of the National Council of Churches.
“We are not calling for the release of Communists,” Kim said. “But we will demand the release of those against whom trumped-up charges of being Communists have been made.”
The 62-year-old leader, who got 46% of the popular votes as the opposition candidate in the country’s last free and open presidential election in 1971, said a New Korea Democratic Party demand for amnesty for himself and restoration of his own civil rights is not a prerequisite to setting up the constitutional revision committee.
“I am not fussing over the question of restoration of my civil rights,” he said. “The achievement of democracy is the most pressing issue.”
Convicted on what the State Department at the time called trumped-up charges of sedition in 1980, Kim remains free only because of suspension of a 20-year jail sentence.
Although a bitter critic of Chun, a former general who brought the sedition charges against him as part of a May, 1980, military takeover of the government, Kim said he is convinced that Chun and the ruling party--after six years of rejecting revision of Chun’s constitution--are now sincere in their pledges to amend it.
“They know that the people’s reaction will be severe if they don’t,” he said.