Opposition leader Kim Young Sam submitted a letter of resignation Saturday as president of the Reunification Democratic Party, setting up a vote of confidence at a party convention later this week.
Virtually no one, inside or outside the party, sees any chance of his resignation's being accepted.
Kim, the second-place finisher in the Dec. 16 presidential election, and his opposition rival, Kim Dae Jung, president of the Party for Peace and Democracy, who finished a close third, have been sharply criticized by many opposition supporters for splitting the opposition vote. This opened the way for Roh Tae Woo, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, to win with a fraction under 37% of the vote.
But there are no other opposition leaders whose stature comes close to rivaling that of the two Kims, and neither of the losing presidential candidates shows any signs of genuinely planning to retire from politics.
Viewed as an Apology
Kim Young Sam's move is widely viewed as an attempt to apologize for the two Kims' failure to agree on a single opposition candidate and at the same time strengthen his position within his party in preparation for National Assembly elections, scheduled to be held sometime between February and April.
"I cannot help but feel sorry for failing to meet the people's wishes for an end to military rule and achievement of democracy . . . and I resign as party president, taking responsibility," Kim said.
A party spokesman said that Kim's offer to resign will be voted on at a convention Wednesday.
In a year-end press conference Thursday, Kim had looked past the scheduled party convention to discuss plans for the National Assembly election, speaking as if he fully intended to be in charge of his party at election time.
"A post-election survey showed that I command overwhelming support among those well-educated voters who are in their 20s and 30s," Kim said at the press conference. "So I plan to field young candidates in the coming general election."
Kim hinted that he might run for a National Assembly seat from a Seoul constituency, although his hometown base is the southern city of Pusan. By running in Seoul, he could help create an "opposition boom," he said.
The date of the National Assembly election and the rules under which it will be conducted have not yet been set. The ruling Democratic Justice Party is pressing for a February date, before Roh's inauguration on Feb. 25. Both major opposition parties are pressing for an election date in April.
Interparty Talks Planned
Interparty talks on setting a date and rewriting the legislative election law are expected this month.
If the opposition can win a majority of seats in the National Assembly election, it could limit the power of the Roh administration, which the opposition sees as a continuation of the present military-backed regime.
"By emerging as the majority party in the election, the Reunification Democratic Party will be able to virtually terminate military rule and satisfy the fervent popular aspiration for democracy," Kim Young Sam said in his Thursday press conference. "The Reunification Democratic Party will be born again after the national convention. I am sure of its rising to the place of a majority party with strength enough to topple the present government."
Kim Dae Jung, on the other hand, has predicted that his party will emerge from the National Assembly election as the leading opposition party.
Some officials of Kim Dae Jung's party, while rejecting any possibility of a formal merger, have expressed hope that the two main opposition parties can coordinate efforts to improve their chances in the legislative election.