South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan is seeking to keep up the momentum of change from confrontation to democratic reform. Yesterday, he appointed a new prime minister to head an extensively shuffled Cabinet. These changes are to be complimented by a new lineup in the ruling Democratic Justice Party. Presidential candidate and party chairman Roh Tae Woo is expected to name a new party leadership today.
Kim Chung Yul, who succeeded Lee Han Key as prime minister, is an elder statesman and former Air Force general who came to fame in 1960, when he advised President Syng Man Rhee to resign at the time of the so-called April student revolution.
Monday's changes were intended in part to meet opposition demands for a coalition government to ensure fair management of presidential elections that are expected before the end of the year. [In related developments, the Associated Press reports, opposition leader Kim Young Sam yesterday accused the government of not carrying out promised reforms. He demanded freedom for all political prisoners by Friday and an amnesty for all political offenders. The government, which says it held 1,100 political prisoners, has released more that 500 political prisoners since July 1. The opposition claims there are up to 3,000 political prisoners.]
No opposition figures were named to the Cabinet. The main opposition party, the Reunification Democratic Party (RDP), doubts the new Cabinet would manage elections fairly.
Ministers belonging to the ruling party were replaced mostly by bureaucrats. The most sensitive post in managing elections is that of home minister - a portfolio that controls the police. Koh Kun, the DJP member, was replaced in this post by Chung Kwan Yong, a bureaucrat.
On the other hand, the new defense minister is Chong Ho Yong, a hard-liner and a member of the original troika that brought President Chun to power in December 1979. Chun and Mr. Roh are the other troika members.
In this sense, the new Cabinet seems poised to go in either a liberal reform-bringing direction or a cautiously conservative one. The first direction presumes the DJP and RDP will be able to hammer out agreement on constitutional revision leading to presidential elections this year. The second path would aim to preserve the support of the politically powerful Army officer corps.
Roh has said that the South Korean Army is a ``people's army'' and will respect the people's verdict even if it means the election of opposition leader Kim Dae Jung. But many Army officers remain deeply suspicious of Mr. Kim, whom they consider a dangerously leftist demogogue.
Kim, who withdrew from the presidential race last November, is now said to be reconsidering. He plans a trip to his native province, including Kwangju, the capital. Kim has not been permitted to address public meetings there for many years, and his tour is bound to generate emotional scenes. Kwangju was the site of a 1980 student insurrection which was suppressed with great bloodshed. The government accused Kim of masterminding the revolt.
Kim's rival for the RJP presidential nomination is Kim Young Sam. The two Kims insist they will not split the party. But rumors of disagreement between them persist. Kim Young Sam is from a province with a long history of regional rivalry with Kim Dae Jung's province.
Free, fair elections will not keep these regional impulses from coming into play, nor will they keep the radical fringe from pushing free speech and assembly to the limit. The South Korean voter's political maturity will be sorely tested in the campaign that is about to begin.
But first the Constitution must be amended to permit direct presidential elections. DJP and RDP talks on the subject are expected to begin this week. The discussions are expected to take up questions such has the exact timing of the elections, the president's length of term, his powers, and reelection rules.
All this is fertile material for disagreements and disputes. Yet both sides are under pressure from public opinion not to get bogged down in power plays. Neither side can forget that in the recent series of demonstrations which led to Roh's historic June 29 speech promising democracy, the political parties played a peripheral role. The core element was ``people power'' as exemplified in middle-class support for the student protests.
If the opposition remains united, it probably has the best chance of winning since the Republic of Korea came into existence 41 years ago. If it splits, and if Roh can show that he is serious about reform, he is likely to be the top runner in the presidential sweepstakes.