Roh Wins S. Korea Presidential Vote : Ruling Party’s Victory Challenged by Opposition; Violence Threatened
Roh Tae Woo, the former general whose nomination as the ruling party’s standard-bearer sparked 18 days of nationwide protests last June, won South Korea’s presidency by a surprising margin of nearly 2 million votes, according to results announced today.
Roh received 36.6% of the vote in Wednesday’s election, outpolling two strong foes, whose supporters immediately challenged the results and threatened violence. Police warned that they would suppress any demonstrations.
A split between Roh’s main rivals, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, gave him a big boost. They failed to keep their promise to field a single opposition candidate, and their mudslinging at one another repulsed many would-be supporters, Korean analysts said.
Together, the two Kims received 53.2% of the votes cast, with 89.3% of the ballots counted.
Roh, whose military background and close friendship with authoritarian President Chun Doo Hwan was the focal point of an opposition attack vowing to “end military rule,” swept his home province, performed strongly in farm areas, won the Seoul suburbs and finished second in the capital itself.
Victory Exceeded Forecasts
With the backing of power-oriented voters--the business community, bureaucrats, the armed forces, and the upper class--as well as an apparently significant part of the middle class, Roh won a victory that far exceeded forecasts.
All South Korean newspapers, as well as foreign analysts, had called the contest a tossup, with the winner expected to win by no more than 1 million votes. Even the ruling Democratic Justice Party had foreseen no more than a margin of 7 percentage points for Roh over his nearest competitor.
Roh’s 7,536,000 votes gave him a margin of almost 10 percentage points over moderate, compromise-minded Kim Young Sam, who polled 5,563,000 votes or 27% of those cast.
Kim Dae Jung, the sole opposition candidate in the last direct presidential election in 1971, had 5,385,000 votes, or 26.2%, while Kim Jong Pil, a strongman of the 1961-79 Park Chung Hee era, finished a distant fourth, with 1,641,000 votes, or 8.9%.
Roh, who stunned the nation last June 29 by promising to transform South Korea’s government from an authoritarian to a democratic system and permit Wednesday’s direct election, waged a campaign that combined promises for new freedoms with threats of chaos if any of the three opposition Kims won. Depicting himself as “a common man,” he said he would “open an era of the common man” and urged the voters to “end the era of the three Kims.”
All three Kims were purged from politics by Chun when he came to power in 1980 in a coup supported by Roh. The ban on most of those purged was removed in 1985 but Kim Dae Jung’s civil rights were restored only last July, enabling him to run in the election.
Roh’s victory makes it likely that the leadership structure of both the bureaucracy, which led the nation from abject poverty in 1961 to near-affluence today, and of the armed forces will remain intact. It also eliminated uncertainties of a transition period that will last until Feb. 25, when Chun steps down.
U.S. Hails ‘Historic’ Vote
Without waiting for charges of widespread fraud to be investigated, the State Department, in Washington, called the election “historic” and praised South Koreans’ “determination to vote.”
A top American diplomat, William Clark Jr., deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for four days of talks with South Korean leaders on post-election U.S.-Korean relations. The United States has more than 43,000 troops stationed here.
Roh, aware that victory did not bring an immediate guarantee of stability, appealed to citizens to accept the outcome.
In a press conference this morning, the president-elect declared that “the work of reconciliation will be my major task.” The campaign, he said, has aggravated regional rivalries and class conflicts.
Will Keep Referendum Pledge
Asked whether he would keep his campaign pledge to hold a referendum on his presidency after next year’s Summer Olympics in Seoul, and leave office if it failed, Roh replied: “I’m going to put my track record before the people. Yes, I’m going to have the vote of confidence.”
He rejected opposition charges of election fraud as “random rumors and disinformation” and said it was the two Kims who must have awakened this morning and asked, “What happened?” Roh provided an answer. “If they are sensible, they will see that division was the cause of defeat,” he told reporters, saying that a combined opposition would “facilitate dialogue” with his government. Roh also attributed the opposition loss to what he called “an alliance of convenience with radical forces.”
Meanwhile, officials of both Kim Dae Jung’s and Kim Young Sam’s parties charged massive fraud in the voting. Kim Dae Jung scheduled a news conference for this afternoon. Kim Young Sam made no immediate statement.
In Kwangju, Chunnam University Prof. Myung Ro Keun, a noted dissident leader, said Wednesday night that “if Roh wins, it is rather predictable that there will be turmoil. No, not really turmoil--rebellion.”
Early today, the only violence that had been reported occurred in Kwangju where a crowd estimated in the hundreds clashed with police, who fired pepper gas, a virulent form of tear gas.
With uniformly heavy voting everywhere, the turnout reached 89.2% of the eligible voters.
The turnout was only the third highest in the nation’s six direct presidential elections dating back to 1952, but it surpassed the 79.8% turnout in 1971, when the late President Park Chung Hee defeated Kim Dae Jung. Kim charged then that his defeat was a result of fraud but in later interviews with a Times reporter, he admitted that the fraud, by itself, was not widespread enough to have cost him victory.
During stumping tours that began in September, however, he again asserted that the 1971 election had been stolen and charged that Roh could win only by fraud and vote-rigging this time.
A victory by Kim would have raised the specter of another coup by leaders of the 625,000-strong armed forces, who hate and distrust him as an alleged leftist.
‘Native Sons’ Favored
Although Roh and his opposition rivals described the election as a battle involving democracy, an end to military rule, stability and economic progress, voters in five provinces and three special cities--Taegu, Pusan and Kwangju--appeared to cast ballots almost solely on “native son” considerations.
Roh overwhelmed his rivals in his native Taegu and Kyongsangpuk province, the northern of two Kyongsang provinces in the southeast, while in Pusan, the nation’s second-largest city and the surrounding southern Kyongsang province, the local favorite, Kim Young Sam, topped the polling.
Kim Dae Jung made his native Cholla region, in the southwest, a one-man show, winning more than 80% of the votes in both northern and southern Cholla provinces and more than 90% in Kwangju city. Kwangju was the scene of demonstrations against Chun’s coup in 1980, which paratroopers put down with such brutality that the protests became an insurrection. One hundred and ninety-four people, by official count, were killed.
Kim Jong Pil made a major imprint in only his native province, where he obtained almost half of his nationwide votes.
Balloting in the Seoul metropolitan area, where 41.6% of the eligible voters live, was split between Roh and the two liberal Kims. The former general lagged behind Kim Dae Jung in the capital but led all rivals in Kyonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, and in the industrial port city of Inchon.
The metropolitan area vote appeared to indicate support for Roh from not only the upper class but also the middle class, which, last June, had sided with protests against Chun’s government.
Against the backdrop of seven years of Chun’s authoritarian rule and Roh’s reputation as a clone of the balding, stern leader--one of the most unpopular South Korea has ever had--Roh’s victory was all the more surprising. Before June 29, when Roh proposed a direct election, no political analyst, South Korean or foreign, had given Chun’s ruling party a chance of winning a free and open direct election.
Until Roh made his proposals, Chun had declared that an indirect, rubber-stamp electoral college vote would be carried out and that any protest “will be dealt with resolutely.” The indirect election would have guaranteed Roh’s victory and a seven-year term as president with authoritarian powers.
Protests began immediately on June 10, the day Chun staged a ruling party convention that seconded his selection of his boyhood friend, comrade-in-arms through a quarter of a century in the army, and fellow conspirator in a 1979 mutiny and the 1980 coup.
By the end of June, it was clear to Roh that even military suppression of street protests that continued for 18 days would not succeed in restoring order. Roh, as a result, chose to give up guaranteed victory and submit himself to a free-for-all election.
The gamble clearly was to convince voters that Roh and the military leaders were, in fact, ready to embrace democracy. Wednesday’s results, barring yet-to-be produced evidence of major fraud, showed that the gamble paid off.