For a million and a half Koreans who gathered in this capital city on Sunday, the presidential election is already over. ``President Kim Dae Jung,'' they cheered lustily. The campaign event was the biggest demonstration yet of the opposition firebrand's superior ability to move audiences and attract fervent support. The festive atmosphere of the mass rally was belied only by the chants of ``Murderer Roh Tae Woo,'' referring to the former general who is the candidate of the ruling party.
All four major candidates held large rallies on this final weekend before Wednesday's elections, South Korea's first direct selection of its leader since 1971. Despite campaign violence last week, weekend events passed peacefully.
On Saturday, Mr. Roh rolled out an enormous gathering of around 1 million at Seoul's Yoido Plaza. The vast area had been filled the previous two weekends by huge rallies in support of opposition leaders Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam. The ruling party was determined to match them, and at least came close.
There was an overwhelming deployment of police and other security forces, estimated at over 10,000, as the government was determined to foil any attempts to stage an anti-Roh demonstration.
Roh's opponents charged that his crowd was mobilized by extensive use of government funds and by forcing the employees of government agencies and big corporations to attend. Attendees interviewed at the rally said they were paid 10,000 won (about $13) to go. Government corporations closed early and attendence lists of the employees were checked at the site. Workers at one company said their employer told them, ``You don't have to vote for Roh - just go and listen.''
Many voters, however, said they came freely to support Roh. ``The most important thing is to have democracy with stability,'' said a Korea Export-Import Bank employee.
Despite the use of government influence to organize the crowd, one Korean analyst noted, ``It is amazing they were able to collect more than one million people....''
The outdoor displays of support for Kim Dae Jung and Roh, the analyst believes, reflect a slight upswing in their strength in the last week. At the same time, moderate opposition leader Kim Young Sam appears to have been unable to maintain his momentum as front-runner. According to the results of a telephone poll of Seoul voters conducted for a major Korean newspaper Kim Young Sam's support slipped to 28.4 percent from 32.5 percent the week before. Roh stayed the same, at 18 percent, and Kim Dae Jung was steady at 26.5 percent. Former Premier Kim Jong Pil moved up slightly to 6.9 percent.
The undecided vote actually increased, to 15.5 percent. Analysts say most of that represents voters who have decided but do not wish to reveal their preference. According to this view, most of those voters are either Kim Dae Jung supporters afraid of revealing their support for the more radical candidate or middle-class Roh supporters who are embarrassed to admit they back the government.
This slight shift, the analyst says, is partly a result of a ruling-party decision to focus its attack on Kim Young Sam. The tactic followed evidence that Kim had gained front-runner status in the close race.
The new strategy also reflects the judgement that while Kim Dae Jung's base of working class and youth support is fairly constant, the largely middle-class support for Kim Young Sam is less secure. Roh and Kim Young Sam are competing for the same middle-class vote. While those voters desire change, they are also attracted by the promise of stability.
The two men are also battling for the majority vote in their native Kyongsang region. The ruling-party calculation, the analyst suggests, is that a national vote split between the rival opposition leaders, combined with a win in the Kyongsong area, will be enough to win the election.