South Korea's transition

THE election of government party candidate Roh Tae Woo as South Korea's new President represents a vote for stability and gradualism rather than sharp change, as called for by the opposition. Mr. Roh, however, won by a plurality, not a majority. Far more South Koreans voted against him - or for other candidates - than for him. Thus, Roh must move quickly to fulfill campaign pledges to unite the South Korean people as his nation prepares to be host to next year's Olympic Games.

Moving toward democracy is not easy. Look at the United States: After 200 years of constitutional rule, the US is still seeking to define what is meant by a government ``of the people.'' Considered in terms of South Korea's past - with a limited familiarity with democracy - this week's first direct presidential election in 16 years was remarkable. Turnout was high. Voting was generally peaceful. There was a full platter of alternative candidates.

The opposition charges fraud. Perhaps subsequent evidence will bear out such allegations. An international human rights group, however, says there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Barring dramatic revelations, this does not appear to have been the type of fixed presidential election you used to see in the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos.

Militants say they will now take to the streets to prevent Roh from taking office next February. They were saying that before the election. Their case would be more credible had the opposition chosen to unite. That didn't happen. Moreover, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung don't represent the same constituencies. The former Kim is more of a centrist. His voters knew that.

South Korea needs to overcome its confrontationalism and regionalism. Seoul's military needs more of a hands-off touch. Despots find no permanent security in rank. Roh must now represent all South Koreans as his nation moves forward on the uncertain roadway of democracy.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.