SEOUL, South Korea — Opposition leader Kim Dae Jung said Wednesday that he would give up any presidential ambitions if the government and ruling party would agree to direct presidential elections.
He charged at the same time that the government of President Chun Doo Hwan is seeking to prolong its "dictatorship" beyond 1988. Kim said he would provide the government with a reason to reverse its "repressive plans" and move toward democracy.
"I make clear that I will not run for the presidency, regardless of the restoration of my civil rights and amnesty, if the government of Chun Doo Hwan accepts the proposal for constitutional changes based on the direct presidential system," he said.
"If my existence is a barrier to Chun taking this course, I willingly offer myself on the altar of sacrifice."
Chun, who came to power in a military takeover in 1980 and later won a seven-year term under a new constitution, maintains that he will step down at the end of his term in 1988 to give South Korea its first peaceful transfer of power.
Lost Narrowly in 1971
Kim was narrowly defeated by the late President Park Chung Hee in a 1971 presidential election that foes of the government said was tainted by fraud.
Since then, Kim has outspokenly opposed both the Park and Chun governments and has been imprisoned and put under house arrest. He returned from a two-year self-imposed exile in the United States in February, 1985, and is still under a suspended 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of sedition. Under the sedition conviction by a military tribunal in 1980, Kim was stripped of his civil rights and legally is barred from political activity.
Kim's statement was made at the headquarters of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, an umbrella dissident organization in which he and another leading opposition figure, Kim Young Sam, are co-chairmen.
Both Kims would like to be president. Their problem has been that, to maintain party unity, they have had to conceal their rivalry and maintain their cooperation.
Kim Dae Jung's surprise announcement Wednesday greatly reduces the possibility that a split between the two Kims will cripple the opposition New Korea Democratic Party as it presses its campaign for democratization and direct election of the country's next leader.