Two cheers for democracy, a South Korean voter may well be tempted to say. He has just been to the polls to affirm support for a revised Constitution which establishes the first direct election for president in 16 years.
He also faces a proliferation of candidates. Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, the co-leaders of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party (RDP), have done what everyone said they would do despite their repeated pledges not to: They are both running for the presidency and the party will consequently split up.
``I feel sorry and ashamed to see this split when the people's aspiration is to realize a single opposition candidate and end military rule,'' said Kim Young Sam. For his part, Kim Dae Jung said he felt he ``could not betray the expectation of so many people who have placed their hope in my carrying out this task [to run for president].''
The constitutional referendum took place Tuesday. Nearly 80 percent of Korea's voters went to the polls, and 93.1 percent of these cast their ballots in favor of the proposed revision. It was the most spontaneous and tension-free demonstration of the popular will that has ever taken place in South Korea's turbulent history.
Yesterday, Kim Dae Jung formally declared his candidacy as expected. Kim Young Sam had already done the same Oct. 10. Since a party can have but one candidate, and since Kim Young Sam is president of the RDP, Kim Dae Jung will have to form a new party to legitimize his candidacy. This he expects to do around Nov. 10, aides said.
A third Kim, former Premier Kim Jong Pil, has also entered the presidential race, running under the banner of the Republican Party, which he recently formed.
All three Kims are running in opposition to Roh Tae Woo, the former general who is the candidate of the ruling Democratic Justice Party. Mr. Roh, who helped his military academy classmate Chun Doo Hwan to carry out his coup d''etat of Dec. 12, l979 and become President, has been doggedly campaigning in the provinces despite the verbal brickbats, the kerosene bottles, and other missiles hurled at him by irate opponents.
Roh is the one who prevailed on Mr. Chun at the end of June to accept direct presidential elections, reversing plans for an indirect election that virtually assured victory for the ruling party.
Ever since then, for the opposition, Roh has been the man to beat. A united opposition would have had a chance. Now most analysts believe that even Kim Dae Jung, the most popular opposition candidate, is not likely to scrape through with more than a plurality - he may get more votes than anyone else, but not an outright majority. And Roh is given a real chance of winning.
This is a far cry from what the more idealistic opposition members were thinking at the time Chun conceded the principle of direct elections. Instead of a straight-forward contest between rule by soldiers and a return to civilian government, the meaning of the campaign has been blurred and many voters are beginning to feel that all the candidates are interested in is personal power.
Kim Dae Jung's party, sources close to him said, will be called the Peace and Democracy Party. When the Korean characters signifying ``peace'' and ``democracy'' are combined they also signify ``common people.''
At a press conference announcing his candidacy, Kim Dae Jung said his platform called for national reconciliation, a just economy, the political neutrality of the military, a self-reliant diplomacy, and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. His rallies have been enthusiastically attended by workers and the urban poor, though his announced policies could scarcely be described as socialist or radical. But there is a ``people's touch'' to Kim Dae Jung's campaign. Some middle-class voters are dismayed by it; others are excited.
Political analysts' opinions on the campaign's effectiveness are divided, but so far the prevailing thought seems to be that majority voter feeling is for stability and economic prosperity. This, they believe, coupled with regional sentiment against Kim's native province of South Cholla could work against the opposition candidate who, when all is said and done, offers the most clear-cut alternative to the ruling party.