S. Korea's Chun has edge over opposition. President capitalizes on opposition's growing divisiveness
Seoul — President Chun Doo Hwan appears to have turned an important corner recently in battling South Korea's large but fractious opposition movement. Following the three-day student occupation of Konkuk University in Seoul last month, the President has emerged in a much stronger position, analysts say, against both the student movement and his parliamentary adversaries in the opposition New Korea Democratic Party (NKDP).
Mr. Chun has used the Konkuk incident, which ended with the detention of 1,525 students on Oct. 31, to seek public support for a month-long campaign for national unity against what the government claims is a growing threat of subversion by domestic radicals and others said to be in sympathy with communist North Korea.
As part of this drive, the ruling Democratic Justice Party appears to be making increased headway in its longstanding effort to divide the New Korea Democrats, who are led by Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, the nation's best-known dissident politicians (the two men are not related).
For the first time since the NKDP was formed two years ago, diplomats and political analysts believe Chun has a better than even chance of blocking the opposition's demand for direct presidential elections in 1988, when his term of office expires. Chun, who took power in a military coup six years ago, has proposed a ministerial system, involving indirect elections, that his opponents say would effectively enable him to choose his successor.
``Our situation is beginning to change dramatically,'' said one opposition member of the National Assembly. ``If it gets much worse, we are going to begin losing some of our support.''
In part, this reflects increasing dissatisfaction among many of Chun's opponents with the two Kims' control of the New Korea Democrats. A younger generation of antigovernment politicians frustrated by their lack of influence over the party's direction are now openly critical of the Kims' dominance of party appointments and strategy.
Like Chun and his predecessors over the past four decades, these politicians assert, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam have failed to emerge from a long Korean tradition in which authority emanates from powerful personalities.
Two weeks ago, Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou Hwan, the Roman Catholic leader here, began suggesting publicly that Chun and the two leaders of the New Korea Democrats should renounce their personal ambitions in the interest of nonviolent political progress. This is viewed widely as a major factor in encouraging members of the opposition party to make similar calls.
``Until now we have had only two strong figures in the opposition,'' said Lee Taeck Hee, an opposition assemblyman. ``There has been no attempt to build a new and younger leadership.''
Mr. Lee last week resigned from his post as chairman of the NKDP's policymaking committee to begin lobbying for change in its leadership. Equally important, he and other within the opposition are beginning to argue more vocally for a compromise on the election issue, as well as for a renunciation of support for the increasingly radical student movement.
Such differences within the opposition camp are precisely what the ruling party has long sought to exploit. Opposition sources suggest that as many as two dozen others harbor views similar to Lee's.
In part, the opposition party's ``reformists,'' as they are called, are seen as responding to the President's recent ideological campaign. Analysts also say that they are concerned about their own political futures, with legislative elections only a year away. But they have not as yet been accepted in most quarters as much more than political opportunists in the traditional Korean mold, despite their rhetoric.
In an apparent effort to avert an open rift among members of the opposition, Kim Dae Jung last week offered to drop his presidential ambitions if the ruling party agreed to accept constitutional reforms that provide for direct presidential elections. Mr. Kim, a devout Catholic, is also believed to have been influenced by Cardinal Kim.
In addition, the NKDP has further postponed any immediate internal crisis by pushing back the deadline it had imposed on a constitutional agreement. It says it will seek support for a popular revolt outside parliament only next spring, not at the end of this year, as earlier threatened.
Nonetheless, even Kim's supporters are bracing for a loss of political resolve among the New Korea Democrats as their new deadline approaches.