Democracy Uncertain, Kim Dae Jung Warns : Korea Dissident Still Fearful of Suppression

Times Staff Writer

Opposition leader Kim Dae Jung said Thursday that democracy is not yet assured in South Korea and warned that the government could still resort to suppression.

In an interview with The Times at his home Thursday night, Kim also:

-- Warned that democracy, if achieved, will bring new problems.

-- Vowed that the opposition will field only one major candidate in a direct presidential election expected to be held by year’s end.

-- Predicted that the ruling party is likely to find its conservative support divided by the emergence of a surprise candidate: Kim Jong Pil, the late President Park Chung Hee’s right-hand man, who was purged from politics until 1985 after President Chun Doo Hwan seized power by coup in May, 1980.


-- Disclosed that he will meet U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley for the first time at a Fourth of July reception at the American Embassy and again, privately, next Wednesday.

Not Ready to Rejoice

As a leader who has been kidnaped, subjected to countless house arrests, jailed, sentenced to death, and deprived of his civil rights over the years, Kim Dae Jung said he is not yet ready to rejoice over the promise of full democracy that Chun made Wednesday in the aftermath of 18 days of turmoil last month.

Kim said the opposition still has four main worries about whether Chun, who jailed Kim in 1980, will accept all of the forms of democracy. Steps the government must take, he said, include release of all political prisoners, restoration of civil rights, granting freedom of speech and assembly--including the right to stage peaceful demonstrations--and allowing the establishment of trade unions and farmers cooperatives.

Doubts also remain, he said, about whether the government will approve a truly democratic constitution, including a presidential election law permitting free campaigning.

The election law, he said, could become a stumbling block as ruling and opposition parties attempt to revamp the constitution and legal structures of the government in time for an election by the end of the year.

“The present law is designed to restrict campaigning, not to ensure a free election,” he said.


Doubts Good Faith

Kim said that doubts also remain about whether the government party is prepared to lose power in a free election and, if it does lose, whether it will really transfer power to the opposition next Feb. 25.

Chun, too, has new worries--about his own personal security after he turns power over to a new president, despite opposition assurances that it will not engage in “politics of retaliation,” Kim said.

Diplomats and Korean analysts have often cited Chun’s fears that he might be brought to trial to face charges arising from his suppression of demonstrations that turned into an insurrection in the provincial capital of Kwangju after his coup in 1980. By official count, 194 people were killed in the incident.

To resolve the doubts on both sides, Kim said he is proposing that Chun accept an interim “pan-national” Cabinet to serve until the power transfer in which representatives of opposition and dissident groups would serve along with ruling party members. Chun would resign his post as president of the ruling Democratic Justice Party but would remain in office until his term ends, he added.

Could Handle Transition

An interim Cabinet, he said, would receive the people’s support and could handle a smooth transition of power and carry out reconciliation on every problem, including Kwangju, between now and February, Kim said.

“Chun could then step down safely, and the next government won’t inherit the problems of this one,” he added.


Kim said he would discuss the proposal with his political ally, Kim Young Sam, president of the Reunification Democratic Party, on Sunday, with the idea of persuading Kim Young Sam to adopt it as party policy.

Kim Dae Jung, however, said he has no intention of demanding that his proposal be accepted by the government as a precondition to moving ahead with the complicated negotiations on constitutional and legal reforms that lie ahead.

His alliance with Kim Young Sam, with whom he competed for power after President Park was assassinated in 1979, will continue, despite government efforts to split the opposition by driving the two men apart. Ruling party chairman Roh Tae Woo, he charged, had recommended amnesty for him from a 1980 sedition conviction to free him to run for president in the hope of splitting up his partnership with Kim Young Sam.

Differs With Ally

Kim Dae Jung, however, did disclose one point of dispute with his ally. Unlike Kim Young Sam, who proposed holding a National Assembly election simultaneously with the presidential election, Kim said he favors calling an election for the legislature after the new president takes office.

An assembly election under Chun, he said, would be less favorable to the opposition.

Kim Dae Jung said he had not been officially informed when Chun would grant him amnesty but said it could come next week. Prime Minister Lee Han Key announced Thursday that procedures to restore Kim’s civil rights had begun.

The former presidential candidate also cited new problems that democracy will bring to other sectors of society, even during the coming months of transition.


“There are still all sorts of possibilities,” he said, that Chun’s government will again resort to repressive measures.

“For instance, there are no labor unions in any big business, or, if they exist, they are company-controlled unions. Laborers will begin to rise up. That alone will create a big problem.

“Then, if freedom of expression is given, newspapers will take up all sorts of scandals that have been covered up until now. If they suppress the press, trouble will occur.

“If someone wants to stage a demonstration, they could suppress it, and the people will get angry,” he said. “The path ahead is not so simple.”

Cites Chun Switches

Kim pointed out that Chun, three times in the last two years, has changed his policy on constitutional revision--moving from a ban on reforms, to approval and then back to a ban before finally accepting revisions this year.

“Lack of principle is their only principle,” Kim charged. “The only thing that has remained consistent is that, whatever happens, they intend to keep their grasp on power.”


Kim, 63, the main opposition candidate in South Korea’s last free, open presidential election in 1971, said he would not run in the direct presidential election that Chun approved Wednesday in place of a scheduled indirect election seen as favoring the government party. Instead, he plans to devote himself to strengthening the Reunification Democratic Party.

Kim said he hopes to join the party, but he indicated that his final decision on whether to join would depend on what positions the party is willing to give to young people and dissident leaders.

Since Roh announced that he would recommend amnesty, Kim has repeatedly said he does not intend to run for president but has refrained from making it a final decision “because it will take time to win the approval of my several million supporters” to shift their support to Kim Young Sam, he said.

‘First, Ensure Democracy’

“Now is not the time to name a presidential candidate. First, we must ensure that democracy is achieved and that the constitution and the presidential election law are revised,” he said. Unlike the ruling party, “there will be no need for us to sell the name of the opposition candidate (to get votes),” he added.

“I will not run. There is no change in that. But the reason is not because I promised last November not to run if Chun voluntarily approved a direct presidential election. Chun did not approve it voluntarily. The people forced him to,” Kim said.

Kim dismissed fears that commanders of the nation’s 625,000-man armed forces, who are reported vehemently opposed to the restoration of his civil rights, might intervene to prevent him from participating in party politics. He said he has no intention of seeking contacts with military leaders.


“I love the military, and I believe in attaching importance to the military. But a military which intervenes in politics is absolutely impermissible. Therefore, I have no intention of seeking contacts with them,” he said.

No compromise with the military will be sought to democratize South Korea, he added.

Support in Military

Kim also said many reserve officers support him and predicted that they will reveal their support publicly “at an appropriate time.”

“The Korean military is Korean. While so many of the people support me, is it really possible that none of the military do? The voices against me come only from Chun Doo Hwan and the handful of military men who support him,” he said.

Kim predicted that Roh, the Democratic Justice Party chairman who will run as the ruling party’s candidate in the presidential election, may find votes taken away from him by Kim Jong Pil, widely credited with masterminding the 1961 coup that put President Park in power as well as setting up both the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, now called the Agency for National Security Planning, and Park’s old ruling party. Kim Jong Pil also served four years as Park’s prime minister in the 1970s.

Kim Jong Pil, he said, “is showing a strong desire to run” and is aiming to pool the strength of a fraternal group of old Park administration colleagues with that of the Korea National Party, a minor conservative party.

Would Take Roh Votes

“He would take votes away from Roh, not from us. He could have more appeal than Roh,” Kim Dae Jung predicted.


He admitted, however, that Roh has gained strength as a result of his bombshell proposal Monday for sweeping democratic reforms.

Kim Dae Jung said that a Protestant clergyman had complained to him that “the real winner of Chun’s concessions (approving the Roh proposals) was our people, but when you read the newspapers, Roh has suddenly become a hero.”

“There is a widespread feeling of anger among democratic elements, students, and young people that they had something stolen from their hand,” Kim said. “We earned democracy. Now, they (the government party) are claiming it.”

Nonetheless, Kim said he is confident that the opposition, even with minor candidates running from its camp, will win the election.

“The people, who have hated this government, will not vote for Roh,” he predicted.

Kim did not disclose what he wants to discuss with Lilley when he meets the ambassador at his residence for a private lunch Wednesday. It was Lilley’s second luncheon invitation to Kim, who turned down the first one because it was for lunch at the home of the deputy chief of mission, not at the ambassador’s.

Praises U.S. Policy

The charismatic opposition leader offered high praise for U.S. policy during the 18 days of June in which student-led street demonstrations drew wide support from average Koreans, cheering from the sidewalks.


But he said the strong American support offered last month for democratic reforms came only after “the United States got a great shock from the middle class participation” in protests that remained moderate, on the whole, and did not take on an anti-American tinge.

“Since 1960 (when a student uprising overthrew the government), this was the first time the United States showed real support for democracy in Korea,” he said. “That had a big impact.”

The key to why South Korea’s growing, but conservative middle class supported the protest, he said, lay in the fact that “the middle class hates this government but wants stability. They hesitated to protest, thinking February, 1988, (when Chun pledged to step down) is nearing and decided to wait until then.”

Chun Slammed Door

But when Chun on April 13 slammed the door on constitutional reforms and then named Roh as his successor June 10, “they saw there was no hope for democratization with the transfer of power,” he said.

Advocacy of nonviolence by the opposition made it easier for them to support the demonstrations, he added.

Kim also sketched the kinds of issues the opposition might pursue if it takes power. He criticized the growing concentration of business power in South Korea’s large conglomerates, the increasing debts of farmers, low wages of workers and a growing discrepancy in wealth.