In a sweeping new year nationwide address, South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan has sought to silence domestic and foreign critics of his turbulent power takeover last year.
The former Army general announced Monday that domestic stability allowed a planned presidential election to be brought forward about three months to some time in February. Before the election martial law will be lifted "in its entirety, so that the free will of the people may be fully expressed," he has promised.
And, in a bid to open the way for summit- level talks on peaceful unification of the divided Korean Peninsula, President Chun issued an invitation to his northern counterpart, Kim Il Sung, to visit Seoul "without any conditions attached."
Chun emerged as strong man of South Korea's armed forces after the October 1979 assassination of President Park Chung Hee.
His takeover of effective power from the interim government that emerged after Park's death was finally normalized by a presidential election last August.
A nationwide referendum last October approved a new Constitution, including provision for a single seven-year term for the presidency. At that time, Chun promised early elections for both this post and for a new national assembly.
Martial law was extended to cover the entire country last May following the outbreak of antigovernment riots around the Kwangju area, which had to be put down by Army tanks and paratroopers.
The President spoke of the need of "fair and just" elections but made it clear that there will be little opportunity for much organized opposition to his winning a full seven-year term.
In line with his drive to cleanse Korean society of impure elements, Chun said there was a "possibility that old-style politics may be rekindled with the newly emerging political parties.
"The government, however, will redouble its efforts to prevent any recurrence of old political habits. In particular, I will see to it that political organizations with pro-government leanings will serve as models of the new era by abiding by the principles of fair and clean elections."
Political parties were dissolved last October when the new Constitution went into force.
However, a group of Chun supported has already announced plans to form a government party named the Democratic Justice Party, with the former general as its standard bearer.
It is not yet clear what other political groupings will emerge in time to mount a meaningful campaign against the man who has dominated national life in the space of a few months.
As he extended his invitation to North Korean President Kim to visit Seoul, Chun expressed his willingness to visit the Northern capital of Pyongyang.
But in a background briefing, the South Korean government stressed this reflected no major change in its policy opposing communism or its traditional approaches to the methods of reunification widely differing from the North's ideas. It was felt, however, that only a truly dramatic move could close the wide gulf between North and South.
The dialogue begun on July 4, 1972, has continued intermittently with little progress, punctuated by armed clashes along the Demilitarized Zone and regular Southern claims of intercepting guerrilla infiltrators from the North.
However, observes doubt that North Korea will respond to the Chun invitation. Kim Il Sung has recently been promoting his proposals for a reunited Democratic Confederal Republic of Korea (rejected by Seoul) but has refused to deal with the "military fascist group" led by Chun.