SEOUL, South Korea — President Chun Doo Hwan announced today that he is resigning immediately as president of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, which he created after seizing power in a 1980 coup.
Speaking to a party caucus, Chun called his decision "epochal"--the first time in South Korea's 39-year constitutional history that a leader has given up control of a governing party while still in office.
"The continuing development of any country is possible only when new leaders capable of dealing with . . . changing times are allowed to come forward with new ideas," he declared. "From now on, Korea's political parties also should operate on the strength of ideas and policies, rather than revolving around a specific central personality."
Chun strongly endorsed Roh Tae Woo, 54, the party's chairman who has been named as its candidate for president of the country,, as party president.
Although Chun's powers as president under the authoritarian constitution that he implemented during martial law in 1980 will guarantee him a final say in major decisions for the remaining seven months of his term, the resignation amounted to acceptance of a "lame-duck" status.
The announcement also served to reinforce the promise Chun made when he assumed power to become the first ruler of South Korea ever to give up power voluntarily--a pledge Chun reiterated today.
He described his "determination to personally establish a precedent of a peaceful transition of power" as "tantamount to a religious faith."
Chun pledged to devote himself to his duties as president of the country "from a supra-partisan position during the remainder of my term," saying he will "stringently and impartially administer the political agenda for a peaceful change of administrations."
Urged to Resign
Last Saturday, Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, and his political ally, Kim Dae Jung, urged Chun to not only resign the presidency of the ruling party but also to set up a caretaker Cabinet, including opposition politicians, to ensure neutrality during the forthcoming elections and transfer of power.
Chun, however, said nothing about a caretaker Cabinet in his announcement today.
The president said he was resigning to help the Democratic Justice Party "be reelected to power" by bringing in fresh leadership to carry out "many new tasks."
He condemned "past generations" of political leaders, an apparent reference both to former presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee as well as to the two Kims, who were leading opposition figures under the 1961-79 Park regime.
Chun appeared unperturbed by Thursday's funeral procession for a slain university student that drew hundreds of thousands of average Koreans into the streets in a protest against Chun and continued military rule.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people who came out into the streets in Seoul on Thursday, an all-night demonstration occurred in Pusan, South Korea's second-largest city, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported. Major demonstrations also occured in 15 other cities, the newspaper reported.