THE South Korean government is ``retreating'' from the process of democratic reform, the leader of the largest opposition party charged Monday. Kim Dae Jung, who heads the Party for Peace and Democracy, says he had reached an understanding with President Roh Tae Woo earlier last month on a broad package of reforms.
``Now,'' Mr. Kim says, President Roh is ``retreating from this direction.''
The surprise trip of Moon Ik Hwan to North Korea on March 25 has thrown a monkey wrench into the government-opposition agreement. Amid public disapproval of the Moon trip, the Roh administration has moved to curb what it calls a leftist threat to the nation's security by radical groups, including anti-government activists, students, and labor unions.
Kim charges that the government is abusing the Moon episode to suppress dissidents, to abort the policy of promoting dialogue with North Korea, and to slow down the pace of opening relations with communist countries, including the Soviet Union and China.
The veteran opposition politician carefully avoids criticizing the President, who he says is trying to strike ``a balance between moderate figures in the ruling camp and ultra-rightists.'' The two men met March 10 and agreed on steps to settle long-standing disputes over the opposition-led investigations in the National Assembly into the abuses committed by the preceding regime of Chun Doo Hwan, a former ally and friend of Mr. Roh. That agreement led to the decision, supported by the opposition, to postpone a referendum on the President's rule that threatened to polarize the political scene.
Right-wing elements in the ruling party and in the military strongly backed the referendum. Kim says they believed it would give the government a mandate to crack down on anti-government activity.
The decision to postpone the referendum, Kim says, was a setback for those rightists. Now, he worries, the Moon case has given those forces a new opportunity. After leaning in one direction, the President, Kim suggests, feels compelled to ``satisfy'' those on the right.
But if this continues, Kim warns in an interview with the Monitor, President Roh ``will become a hostage of ultra-rightists in the ruling camp, losing the peoples' support.'' Then, Kim says, ``there will be a serious political crisis.''
Kim's criticism of the government cannot conceal his own uneasiness over Rev. Moon's controversial journey. He clearly opposes the government's intention to arrest the dissident cleric upon his return to Seoul from Tokyo on Thursday. He accuses the government of having a double standard, approving other contacts with the North such as the recent visit by a leading industrialist. The government's own policy of pursuing dialogue with the North, he argues, encouraged Moon's trip.
BUT Mr. Kim is also eager to distance himself from Moon, whom he criticizes for failing to inform the government of his plans.
The day before he was to leave, Moon told Kim he was canceling the trip to organize a anti-Roh vote in the planned referendum. Kim claims Moon did not inform him of his change of plans.
The visit, Kim acknowledges, is a ``technical'' violation of the law prohibiting such contacts. Politically, he adds, ``the timing was not good for him to visit North Korea.'' The opposition hoped to complete changes in repressive laws from the previous era. ``But with Rev. Moon's shock, now it is very difficult for us to amend such laws.''
Kim is in a particular dilemma over the Moon affair. His refusal to join other opposition parties in condemning Moon reflects the fact that his party includes many dissident elements, making up a significant part of his political base. A brother of Rev. Moon, for example, is a prominent member of the party in the National Assembly, chairing the committee investigating the 1980 Army massacre of anti-government demonstrators in the city of Kwangju.
Mr. Kim himself has a long history of opposition to the military dominated rule which prevailed in South Korea until 1987. He shares with Rev. Moon many long periods in jail for that role.
While opposing the government's recent anti-left campaign, the opposition leader blames the dissidents for failing to clearly disassociate themselves from those who favor violent protest and pro-North Korean ideas.
The extreme left and right are linked by similar tactics, Kim contends. They both aim ``to create social disturbances and to polarize politics.''