A new political landscape faced South Koreans on Wednesday, with their government split between the ruling party of President Roh Tae Woo and a disparate opposition holding sway in a more powerful National Assembly.
Assessments were still under way on the implications of Tuesday's election, which left Roh's party 25 seats short of a majority in the assembly, but many analysts agreed that while it probably means uncertainty and some confusion in the near future, in the long term it may promote political stability by broadening participation and giving the opposition a strong hand in legislating and in scrutinizing the administration.
Roh and his Democratic Justice Party will have to strike alliances with members of opposition factions in the assembly, dealing and compromising to get legislation passed. Also, the assembly, under the country's new constitution, now has the power to investigate government activities, and the assembly can no longer be dissolved by the president. That could mean the assembly will press to investigate scandals during the regime of Roh's predecessor and mentor, Chun Doo Hwan, whose younger brother has been indicted for embezzlement.
Forum for Debate
The three main opposition leaders will be members of the new assembly, heightening its standing as a forum for debate and decision on national policy.
While foreign relations were not a significant element in Tuesday's voting, American diplomats braced for reverberations in U.S.-Korean relations, particularly trade and security issues. It probably will be more difficult for the government now to deal, for example, with the U.S. demand that South Korea pay more of the cost of maintaining American troops here.
All of this is a far cry from the pattern of the last 40 years in South Korea, where strong, often authoritarian leaders in Seoul have run the country without having to contend with a legislature dominated by the opposition.
Reflecting the political shock, the Seoul Stock Exchange suffered its biggest one-day drop, with average prices falling 4%. Two key officials of the ruling party offered to resign.
Roh said he regrets that the voters did not provide him with stability for carrying out the democratic reforms he has promised, and he expressed alarm at "regional schisms" that threaten to revive the issue of the 1980 Kwangju uprising, suppressed by troops with at least 194 deaths.
Roh pledged to cooperate with his critics, but he said that a "willingness to engage in dialogue and negotiation has become even more important." That spirit of cooperation has been conspicuously absent in South Korean politics.
Some saw a turn for the better in a legislature no longer dominated by the ruling party.
Western diplomats, requesting anonymity, said the election, in the long term, could promote political stability because it brought dissidents and critics of the government into the National Assembly and "showed students they have a voice in the political system."
"Can you imagine what the political situation would be now if the ruling party had won 60% of the seats?" one diplomat asked.
In the short run, however, Roh and political analysts predicted "many troubles."
The results resuscitated the political career of Kim Jong Pil, 61, a strongman of the 1961-79 rule of Park Chung Hee. Kim Jong Pil was purged by Chun in 1980 in a coup supported by Roh. Although Kim polled only 8% of the votes in last December's presidential election, finishing a distant fourth, his New Democratic Republican Party got 15.3% in the assembly election.
With 35 seats, the conservative Kim now holds the swing votes between Roh's 125 assembly followers, on one hand, and the 130 legislators led by the two longtime opposition advocates of democracy, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, on the other. Nine seats were won by independents. A majority in the 299-seat unicameral legislature is 150.
"We'll cooperate with other opposition parties in fighting against the government but I oppose going into the streets," Kim Jong Pil said Wednesday. "We will never participate in that kind of struggle."
Diplomats predicted that the former strongman, with hopes of someday seeking the presidency himself, would continue to act as an opposition leader to distance himself from the ruling party.
The widespread unpopularity of the ruling party, founded by Chun after the 1980 coup, was the chief cause of its stunning defeat Tuesday, one Western diplomat said.
Kim Dae Jung, who still controls the Party for Peace and Democracy although he resigned as its president, said his party emerged as the No. 1 opposition group as a "reflection of the people's desire to see a powerful opposition that will check the ruling party."
The often-jailed leader, however, offered to cooperate with Roh. He said his party "will not oppose everything the government proposes" but will "seek reforms through stability."
However, Kim Dae Jung is expected to use his party's new strength in the assembly to demand an investigation of the 1980 Kwangju incident. Roh ruled out such an inquiry in an official government apology he issued earlier this month.
The outcome Tuesday could echo in South Korea's foreign relations. A U.S. diplomat, who asked not be be named, said the opposition victory may make friction over trade and other issues between Washington and Seoul "more public," although "U.S.-Korean relations will not necessarily suffer."
In the wake of a $9.9-billion trade deficit with South Korea last year, the United States has lodged complaints against Seoul about beef, cigarettes, advertising, telecommunications, copyrights, shipping and the dollar-won exchange rate. Now, sources said, those issues are expected to get an airing in the assembly.
Another possible source of friction is the recent U.S. demand that South Korea shoulder more of the burden of maintaining the 43,000 U.S. troops stationed here to help guard against possible attack by North Korea.
South Korea is not being singled out; similar demands are being made of Taiwan, Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries because of pressure in Washington for budget cuts, the diplomat said. But South Korea's large trade surplus is highly visible, and trade negotiations are not going smoothly, raising the likelihood that the question of cost-sharing on defense will be a contentious one.
South Korean has a per capita income of $2,800 a year, and South Koreans still regard their country as a developing nation.
South Korea paid $34.3 million toward the upkeep of U.S. forces here in fiscal 1985, the most recent period for which figures are available. Indirect subsidies, mostly rent-free real estate, amounted to $1.2 billion.