Dissident leaders ended their neutrality Monday in the feud between the two principal opposition leaders and issued a statement widely interpreted as endorsing Kim Dae Jung, who was the opposition candidate in the last direct presidential election here in 1971.
Forty-six dissident leaders, many of them executives of the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, called for the selection of a single opposition candidate "by the people" rather than through talks between Kim and his chief rival, Kim Young Sam, president of the Reunification Democratic Party.
The dissidents, led by the highly respected Ham Sok Hon, spelled out their position in a statement issued at a news conference.
Not Specifically Named
They did not specifically name Kim Dae Jung as their choice, but the qualifications they listed and the method they urged made it obvious that they were referring to the charismatic but controversial leader.
Han Kwang Ok, a spokesman for Kim Dae Jung, said that "now that the people's will has become clear, Kim Young Sam must respect it."
But Lee Won Jong, Kim Young Sam's press secretary, rejected the dissenters' statement as "not worthy of comment." He said that "all the signatories are well-known supporters of Kim Dae Jung."
The statement was the first break in the neutrality that religious and civic groups gathered under the umbrella of the Coalition for a Democratic Constitution had adopted in connection with choosing the opposition candidate to oppose Roh Tae Woo, President Chun Doo Hwan's handpicked candidate to succeed him.
In June, the coalition organized street demonstrations that spread to 33 cities and forced Roh to promise sweeping democratic reforms that include direct popular election of the president.
A close aide to Kim Dae Jung told The Times on Monday that Kim intends to force Kim Young Sam to bow out of the race by attracting huge crowds to his rallies and demonstrating that he is "the choice of the people."
The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there has been widespread demand for Kim Dae Jung as a candidate and that this has persuaded him to abandon his intention of throwing his support to his rival and settling for the post of opposition party president.
Now, the aide said, "We think the people should decide," and he added that "if they support Kim Dae Jung, Kim Young Sam will have to bow out."
Kim Young Sam, holding the upper hand within the Reunification Democratic Party, intends to win the official nomination, his aides have said. To date, he has not held any public rallies, insisting that he and Kim Dae Jung fulfill their promise to negotiate which of them will run.
The 46 opposition figures spoke out Monday against any further bilateral consultations. They also urged postponing a decision to permit both Kims to take their cases directly to the people, an argument that Kim Dae Jung has been making since Sept. 8, when he put on the first of four provincial rallies.
The dissidents said that the man chosen as the opposition standard bearer should be a candidate who can put an end to military rule and "settle growing conflicts between classes and regions."
Viewed as Rabble-Rouser
Kim Dae Jung, regarded by the military as a leftist rabble-rouser, comes from the underprivileged Cholla region of southwestern Korea. People there feel that they have been discriminated against for the last 26 years by governments led by leaders from the elitist Kyongsang region in the southeast.
The late President Park Chung Hee, President Chun, Roh and Kim Young Sam were all born and reared in the Kyongsang region.
Roh, meanwhile, took his campaign into the rice paddies outside Seoul, where the harvest is under way. He joined farmers for lunch and indicated that he would persuade the government to raise the price it pays for rice by 13.6%, the same increase planned for civil servants' salaries next year.
Chun, in a speech to the National Assembly, lashed out at "violent, leftist elements that are camouflaging themselves as advocates of democracy."
His speech, read by Prime Minister Kim Chung Yul, said that Chun's government "will crack down on illegal activities hampering fair elections and deal severely with those seeking to take advantage of the election mood to fan social confusion." Chun pledged to ensure "the most exemplary election in our political history."
In another development, at Inchon, police arrested seven dissident labor leaders described as leftists. All were accused of urging workers and students to boycott a national referendum scheduled for Oct. 27 to approve the proposed constitution that provides for direct presidential election.
Warrants were issued for the arrest of 10 other leaders of the same group, police said.