The ruling party and its main opposition took steps Wednesday toward a limited reconciliation that could ensure that their battles will be in voting booths and the legislature rather than the streets.
Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, won a strong vote of confidence at a party convention Wednesday, one day after declaring that he is willing to meet President-elect Roh Tae Woo in order to promote "genuine democratization."
Roh, president of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, won the Dec. 16 election with 36.6% of the votes, while Kim Young Sam took 28% and Kim Dae Jung, the other main opposition leader, finished third with 27%.
After his victory, Roh offered to meet with his opponents, but both initially refused, charging that Roh won through fraud. They called on the people of South Korea to rise in protest, but massive demonstrations never developed.
On Wednesday, Roh welcomed Kim Young Sam's statement and instructed his deputies to arrange talks. Ruling party officials, according to reports in Korean newspapers, said the first meeting is likely to take place Monday or Tuesday. The talks would be the first between the two men since September, when they agreed on a date for the December election.
Kim Dae Jung, president of the Party for Peace and Democracy, was quoted in the Korean media Wednesday as saying that he would refuse to meet Roh "for the time being." He is demanding that the ruling party first implement more of its promises, including the release of political prisoners.
While such a release still appears to be several weeks away, officials indicated Wednesday that some of the country's most famous imprisoned dissidents will be freed by the time of Roh's inauguration Feb. 25, when he will succeed President Chun Doo Hwan.
These include several cases that have been taken up by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.
sh 2 Were Charged in Riot
Among those whom the government may release, according to reports in the Korean press, are Kim Kun Tae, whose case brought wide attention to allegations of government torture, and Chang Ki Pyo and Lee Pu Yong, both charged in connection with a May 3, 1986, anti-government riot in Inchon.
Also on the list of those being considered for release are Ham Un Gyong, a former student leader at Seoul National University; Kim Min Sok, a former Seoul National University student council chairman, and Ho In Hoe, former head of the Korea University student council. All of these prisoners were excluded from a July amnesty.
The Korea Times reported in today's editions that 1,200 political prisoners are being screened for possible amnesty.
Also, some former prisoners are likely to have their political rights restored, which would mean they could run in a National Assembly election that is expected to be held in February or April. Prominent among these is Moon Ik Hwan, chairman of the United Masses Movement for Democracy and Unification, who had been imprisoned on charges of inciting student unrest and was released in the July amnesty.
Delegates at Wednesday's convention of the Reunification Democratic Party voted 819 to 76 to reject Kim Young Sam's offer to resign. After winning the vote of confidence, Kim declared that he would seek to "make a revolution through elections" by leading the party to victory in the National Assembly election.
The ruling party is insisting on a February date for the election, while the opposition parties are pressing for it to be held in April. But both Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung have said their parties will contest the election whenever it is held.
Kim Young Sam told the convention delegates that after losing the Dec. 16 election, he wept for the first time in his political career.