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Key S. Korea Party Chief Urges Reforms : Human Rights to Be Expanded, He Says; Local Voting Called For

Times Staff Writer

Roh Tae Woo, chairman of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, said Friday that the system of government under which President Chun Doo Hwan has ruled for six years can no longer deal with “the diverse and pluralized interests” of a richer and better-educated South Korea.

Power must be decentralized, Roh said in an interview, and local governments must be elected.

Roh, 53, who is regarded as the most likely establishment candidate to succeed Chun as leader of South Korea in 1988, said that South Korea’s constitution will be revised “in the direction of expanding basic human rights,” but not all restrictions on these rights will be removed.

“In the past,” he said, “the government and the people have emphasized the need for strong, centralized leadership because of the acute (need for) security. But now that we are revising the constitution, we must reflect the changes which have occurred in all sectors of society. Koreans now have a per capita income of $2,000 a year. The people’s education has improved. Diverse and pluralized interests are being articulated in all sectors of society.

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Time for Local Autonomy

“With great power concentrated in one person, we cannot deal with all of the diverse demands put upon us. It is time to start democratization in the true sense of the word by introducing local autonomy and autonomy in every social field as well--to allow decisions to be made by the people concerned.”

At present, all local officials are appointed by the president. There are no local legislative bodies.

Roh has spoken out against a system of electing the president directly, which the opposition is demanding, but he said that the decentralization of power need not rule out the presidential form of government in favor of something else.

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He said his party is confident that it can win any kind of election to choose a new leader. And it is prepared to accept the voters’ decision if it loses, he said.

Some political analysts believe that the ruling party will insist on a parliamentary system of government so that the voter appeal of a single candidate will not be the deciding factor in choosing a successor to Chun, who is required by the present constitution to step down on March 2, 1988. Many analysts agree that a direct presidential election would favor one of the opposition leaders--Kim Dae Jung, 62, or Kim Young Sam, 57.

Vote Method the Issue

The opposition demand for direct presidential elections is expected to be the chief obstacle in reaching an agreement on constitutional revision.

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Chun’s 1980 constitution, imposed under martial law, and related laws provide for indirect election of a president by a college of 5,278 electors. Public rallies are not permitted and only three television appearances and three radio speeches are permitted in the course of the campaign.

Roh, who was a classmate of Chun at the Korea Military Academy, followed Chun in a succession of military jobs. The last two of these--commander of the Capital Garrison and commander of the Defense Security Command--provided key support during and after Chun’s takeover of the government in 1980.

Roh retired as a four-star general in 1981, served in three Cabinet posts and for three years headed the organizing committee for the Olympic Games, which are scheduled to take place here in 1988.

Constrained by ‘Threat’

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Asked about human rights and whether the ruling party is willing to revise a controversial press law that gives the government control of the mass media, Roh responded:

“The direction of revisions will be toward expanding basic human rights. But the Korean situation is unique. We face a threat to our survival"--from Communist North Korea. “One cannot overemphasize the importance of guaranteeing national survival. We will keep expanding human rights--within the limit of protecting the people’s right of survival.”

Chun and the ruling party had wanted to postpone revising the constitution until completion of a “peaceful transfer of power” and the Olympic Games. Roh said the party believes that Chun’s decision to seek constitutional revision through a compromise with the opposition represents a significant development.

Two-Thirds Vote Needed

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If the ruling and opposition parties can work out a compromise--and Roh said he is “quite optimistic” that they can--South Korea will achieve not only its first peaceful transfer of power but also its first constitutional revision carried out through a compromise between ruling and opposition groups.

Two-thirds of the National Assembly--the ruling party has only a simple majority--must approve amendments for submission to a national referendum.

Roh said he expects the military to stay out of politics in the future.

Military men rebelled in 1961 and 1980 and set up governments that have ruled for 26 of the 38 years of the Republic of Korea. But Roh said: “The military has never intervened in an election or when fair elections were held. Only when politicians failed to live up to expectations, created chaos and lost control of the situation did the military intervene. I don’t expect that to happen again in Korean politics.”

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Roh said he expects an agreement “perhaps late next week” with the opposition New Korea Democratic Party to establish a National Assembly committee for revising the constitution. At issue is an opposition demand that Chun release “all political prisoners” as a condition to setting up the committee.


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