Roh Tae Woo, the ruling party’s presidential nominee, promised Saturday that if he is elected, he will submit himself to an “interim appraisal by the people” next autumn after the 1988 Summer Olympics are staged here and resign if they disapprove of his performance.
He also challenged Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam to fulfill their promise to the people to field a single opposition candidate against him in Wednesday’s election, even though “the opposition split is advantageous to me.”
As three tear-gas grenades were exploded by foes of Roh in a crowd of about a million people in Yoido Plaza here, Roh made his most important speech of a monthlong campaign, his eyes watering from the fumes while photographers and reporters donned gas masks. Thousands of bodyguards and an estimated 10,000 police surrounded the speakers’ stand and patrolled the perimeter of the massive square.
Government ministries and state-run corporations as well as large business firms let employees off early and transported them to the plaza. The Korea Times reported that more than 10,000 buses were mobilized to round up part of the massive audience. Tens of thousands of others came by regular bus and subway. At one point pedestrians filled a six-lane bridge across the Han River leading to the site.
Billed as a “second June 29 announcement"--a reference to his promise last summer to accept direct presidential elections and transform South Korea into a democracy--the speech lacked the drama of that earlier moment, when Roh approved all opposition demands for reform in a bold move that put an end to 18 days of nationwide street protests.
But with analysts agreeing that this weekend’s rallies could determine the outcome of a photo-finish three-way presidential contest, Roh offered the most dramatic promises of his campaign to date.
The former army general, who supported President Chun Doo Hwan in a 1980 coup, promised to “subject my record in implementing the June 29 reform package and all my campaign pledges to an interim appraisal by the people next autumn after the 1988 Olympics.”
In his speech at the rally and in an address on television, Roh did not spell out what he meant by “interim appraisal.” But he told South Korean journalists that a national referendum would be one possibility for making the appraisal.
Asked if he would resign if the appraisal proved negative, Roh said, “Of course.” The new president will have a single term of five years.
Roh complained that rising violence and displays of mutual antagonism by the peoples of the southeast Kyongsang and southwest Cholla regions had turned the campaign into “a dogfight in the mud,” deepening divisions and exacerbating confrontation.
“Even today, tear-gas grenades were exploded,” he said, thanking the crowd for disregarding them.
“Radical groups (are) clamoring for violent revolution (and) citizens have come to hate and reject each other,” he said. “This is truly a heartbreaking situation.”
He blamed “the interminable no-quarters-barred contention between the two Kims” for transforming the campaign into a “chilling battlefield” filled with character assassination and slander.
“The way to unite the Korean people . . . is to make the current election a one-on-one contest between the governing and the opposition camps so that one of us will be able to receive a clear mandate of a majority vote,” Roh declared.
“Today I challenge the two principal opposition candidates to put up a single candidate,” he said. “In that way, I want a fair chance to vie for a majority endorsement by the voters.”
Roh said he realized that the opposition split--which now appears irrevocable--"is advantageous to me. However, in view of the fact that the nation is skidding deeper and deeper into schism and confrontation, . . . the situation must not be left to run its course any further . . . regardless of whether it will benefit me personally.”
Roh indirectly warned the opposition, which is widely expected to reject the result of the election on the grounds of fraud if Roh is declared the winner, that he would “form a strong democratic government, if elected even by a margin of one vote.”
He said he would carry out a general amnesty on the occasion of his inauguration but would not include “radical leftists” and “proponents of violent revolution"--many of whom the opposition views as simply critics of authoritarian military rule--as well as convicted felons.
In an attempt to distance himself from the unpopular outgoing president, Roh vowed that “all major past scandals will be stringently investigated if incriminating evidence is found” and dealt with “sternly.” He did not name Chun or his relatives, but one major scandal of the Chun government involved the uncle of the president’s wife, and reports are widespread that other Chun relatives have been involved in graft and corruption.
“There will be no sanctuary given in the effort to stamp out corruption and irregularities. . . . Even the families of presidents will not be exempted,” he declared.
All high officials, including the president, he said, will be forced to disclose and register their assets and have them monitored by the National Assembly.
He promised to recruit into his government “any of my opponents who are capable of contributing to national development” as well as other people outside the ruling party, and to abolish favoritism in government appointments for retired military officers. Frequent meetings will be held with opposition leaders, who for the first time will be briefed on defense issues, he added.
Roh said he would keep the military and the nation’s various intelligence agencies out of politics and would abolish the ruling Democratic Justice Party’s “top-down, authoritarian mode of management.” Future presidential nominees will be elected in free competition within the party, instead of by appointment by the outgoing president, said Roh, who was himself handpicked by Chun.
Declaring that he would “completely eradicate any authoritarian attitude toward the people,” Roh said he would not be “a desk-bound chief executive” but would “mingle with the people and listen to what they have to say.”
“I will place priority on frequent face-to-face discussions with college students, workers and farmers,” he said, adding a promise to meet the press often.
He also promised to let citizens “walk along the road in front of the (presidential) Blue House.”
All of his promises for a more open presidency were aimed at overturning the image of secluded leaders that Chun and the late President Park Chung Hee, both former generals, developed during their years in office dating back to 1961. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic, for example, is presently barred even from roads a mile away from the Blue House.
“My sole aim” in seeking the presidency, he said, “is to eradicate all forms of past hatred and mistrust and to usher in an era of harmony, unity, and cohesion.”
The two Kims ignored Roh’s call for them to agree upon a single opposition candidate, while spokesmen for their parties dismissed Roh’s new pledges as “deception.” They charged that, except for allowing a direct presidential election, Roh has carried out none of the promises he made June 29.