Kim Dae Jung, the opposition candidate in South Korea’s last free and open presidential election in 1971, believes that President Chun Doo Hwan intends to pull the strings of power for the leader who succeeds him in 1988.
Kim charged in an interview that Chun intends to amend the constitution to provide for a Cabinet system of government, “whether the people want it or not,” because Chun needs that form of government to retain power.
He said Chun could control a prime minister at the head of such a government by two means:
First, Chun will retain his post as president of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, and this will enable him “to appoint the candidate for prime minister,” Kim said.
Second, as the immediate past president, Chun will become chairman of the Advisory Committee to the president or to the prime minister. This is now a largely ceremonial group composed of former heads of government and chiefs of state, but Chun, according to Kim, plans to increase its power.
No Evidence Offered
“With these two posts, he could pull the strings that control the new leader,” Kim said.
Although Kim offered no evidence to support his charges, a high-ranking Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified by name, agreed with the often-jailed opposition leader. The diplomat said that he, too, thinks Chun intends to retain power after leaving the presidency at the end of his single seven-year term, as the present constitution requires.
Kim, 62, who is free but deprived of his civil rights under a suspended 20-year jail sentence for sedition, condemned Chun for refusing to meet him and Kim Young Sam, the two men who control the opposition New Korea Democratic Party.
If there is no meeting with Chun, “the political situation will grow tense,” Kim said. “There is a large possibility that Chun will take stern measures against us. But he will not succeed. The people will not tolerate dictatorship any more.”
Kim said the opposition will remain opposed to violence and resist radical calls to “make Japan and the United States (which are perceived to be supporting Chun) our enemies.”
Moderation, he said, will be necessary to “persuade the middle class to join us in ‘people’s power,’ as in the Philippines,” he said, referring to the mass movement that brought down the government of President Ferdinand E. Marcos in February.
But Kim predicted that if the government moves forcefully, the people will rise up next year.
“When they do,” he said, “if they retain strong unity and remain moderate, ‘people’s power’ will emerge. With that kind of pressure from the people, Chun will have to choose whether to fight the people to the end and create his own misfortune, or to choose a direct presidential form of democracy and a peaceful transfer of power desired by the people.”
Kim said the opposition will resist any calls for retaliation against Chun, who seized power in a 1980 coup.
‘People Have Become Strong’
But Chun “could also chose to suppress us entirely and declare martial law or carry out a military coup,” Kim said. “Yes, he could do that. But that will only worsen the situation. It will not create stability. The people have become too strong. Their desire for democracy is too strong. And they no longer fear punishment.”
Kim charged that Chun has been following a strategy of deception to suppress manifestations of Koreans’ desire for reform. First, he said, Chun persuaded the opposition party to stop its pro-reform rallies throughout the country in favor of joining a constitutional reform committee in the National Assembly. Now, he said, Chun intends to stall the committee’s deliberations until the end of the year.
“Then, when students are on vacation in the cold of January or February, he plans to approve constitutional amendments and stage a national referendum to implement them,” Kim charged.
Although the ruling party lacks the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly needed to approve amendments, Kim said he believes that it aims to pick up votes from other opposition parties and from defectors from the New Korea Democratic Party.
Driving a Wedge
Chun, he said, is attempting to drive a wedge between him on the one hand and Kim Young Sam and Lee Min Woo, the titular head of the New Korea Democratic Party, on the other. But he predicted that neither Kim Young Sam nor Lee would yield to the president’s demand that they accept a cabinet system of government.
With Kim Dae Jung in the lead, the opposition party is demanding that Chun’s authoritarian 1980 constitution be revised to permit a direct presidential election, a contest Chun’s party is widely believed to be convinced it cannot win.
Kim said the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador, James R. Lilley, now deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, offers “a possibility that American policy toward South Korea will become more realistic than up to now.”
He said he hopes Lilley will spend more time exchanging opinions with opposition and dissident leaders than Ambassador Richard L. Walker did.
Walker plans to leave South Korea Oct. 25.