S. Korea Ruling Party, Opposition Agree on Panel to Revise Constitution
With only three days remaining in a special session of the National Assembly, the ruling and opposition parties agreed Saturday to adopt a resolution Tuesday to set up a special assembly committee to work out revisions of South Korea’s authoritarian constitution.
The agreement averted what might have been a delay of as long as three months in beginning work on constitutional reform. However, it stopped short of fixing a specific timetable for the committee to be organized and start work.
Roh Tae Woo, chairman of President Chun Doo Hwan’s ruling Democratic Justice Party, and Lee Min Woo, president of the opposition New Korea Democratic Party, agreed that their parties will join in approving an enabling resolution, empowering lawmakers to set up the committee after the special session ends Tuesday.
Without the accord, work on constitutional reforms might have had to be put off until after Sept. 20, when a regular assembly session is scheduled to begin.
Prisoners an Issue
Roh and Lee, who agreed in principle May 29 to set up the committee, again failed to hammer out the details for freeing people now in jail for having demanded constitutional reforms. The opposition insists that the prisoners be released as a prerequisite to setting up the reform committee.
Lee told reporters that his party will delay naming members to the reform committee until Chun “shows sincerity” in releasing the prisoners as proof that he is prepared to accept democratic reforms after refusing for six years to allow even debate about constitutional amendments.
Chun first announced April 30 that he would allow the constitution, which he implemented under martial law in 1980, to be revised before he steps down March 2, 1988. Roh confirmed to Lee on May 29 that revisions would be permitted in the method of choosing Chun’s successor, as well as in the form of future government, to “guarantee the people a free choice.”
Lee presented a new list of demands--that police end a manhunt for wanted dissidents, forgo indictment of those detained for questioning, drop charges against indicted prisoners awaiting trial, grant amnesty to prisoners serving sentences and reinstate students expelled for staging demonstrations.
While avoiding a comprehensive answer to Lee’s new demands, Roh said that his party “cannot intervene in court proceedings.”
To Work on Releases
He and Lee, however, told reporters that they have agreed to “do their best” to solve the issue of prisoner releases.
On Thursday, Justice Minister Kim Sung Ky disclosed that authorities have freed 212 of the 1,190 people who were in detention on May 29, when Roh promised Lee he would recommend leniency for people arrested in political protests.
A ruling party spokesman promised that more prisoners would be released by the beginning of this week, including seven students who seized the American Cultural Center in Pusan on May 21. The spokesman also said the government will adopt what he called “lenient measures” for “a considerable number” of the others at unspecified times in the near future “while observing legal procedures.”
The New Korea Democratic Party had calculated that 1,492 people were jailed for demanding constitutional revisions and seeking restoration of democracy in South Korea.
Roh was noncommittal about the opposition’s demand for the immediate release of the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, 68, chairman of the United Masses Movement for Democracy and Unification, who was indicted Thursday on two counts of inciting violence and riot.
Moon was the only prisoner listed by name in the opposition’s demand for wholesale release of political prisoners.
Roh told Lee only, “Let’s wait and see.”