South Korean opposition groups are stepping up their campaign to have the next president chosen by direct popular vote, instead of indirectly through a huge electoral college. Without a constitutional change to permit this, the opposition believes that it will be unable to gain the presidency before the mid-1990s at the earliest. It is precisely for this reason that President Chun Doo Hwan's regime opposes any tinkering with the presidential selection process. And so a major test of political wills and power has begun.
Last year South Korea's two biggest opposition parties won 49% of the votes cast in National Assembly elections, against only 35.3% for Chun's ruling Democratic Justice Party. Leaders of the opposition groups, which have since merged, believe that they can win the scheduled 1988 presidential election, but only if a direct vote for president is permitted. Chun has agreed to consider constitutional change, but not before 1989. Since Chun has said that he won't seek to retain his office after 1988, his ability to act in 1989 on even this modest concession is open to doubt.
Chun's opponents have begun circulating petitions to amend the constitution. The regime says that while the petition movement is legal its goal is not. Under the constitution, adopted in 1980 after Chun took power from a short-lived civilian government, the amending process can be initiated only by the president or by a majority of the Assembly. Since Chun's party continues to control the Assembly because of the way seats are allotted under a proportional-representation system, neither of these actions is likely.