SEOUL, South Korea — President Chun Doo Hwan's ruling party said Saturday that the country's first popular presidential election in 16 years must be held by Dec. 20 and called on opposition leaders to submit their proposals this week for constitutional changes that will permit such a vote.
Roh Tae Woo, chairman of the ruling Democratic Justice Party and Chun's handpicked candidate for president, told reporters that he hopes the feuding opposition will present its draft of a new constitution quickly enough so Chun can step down next February, as he has promised.
"The negotiations (on the constitution) must be completed by the end of August," Roh said. "We have conceded everything, and it is now their turn to change their posture and come forward for negotiations. If the opposition comes out sincerely, I don't think a compromise will be hard to achieve."
Sweeping Reforms Proposed
Roh stunned the nation June 29 by proposing sweeping democratic reforms that were endorsed two days later by Chun, who had originally picked Roh to run as the official candidate in a planned indirect election that was denounced by the opposition as skewed in favor of the regime.
Eighteen days of turmoil and rioting in June, touched off by Roh's nomination, persuaded Chun and Roh to announce concessions on all major opposition demands, including that for direct, popular election of a South Korean president for the first time since 1971.
Before an election can be held, however, all parties must agree on constitutional changes, and they must be approved by public referendum
Opposition leader Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party has drafted its constitutional proposals, but he and Kim Dae Jung, another top opposition figure, have disagreed on technicalities, among them the date of elections for a new National Assembly.
Talks Must Start Quickly
Speaking to reporters Saturday, Lee Dai Soon, the ruling party's floor leader in the current Assembly, said that his party's constitutional proposals are nearly ready and that full-scale talks to reconcile all versions must start quickly.
"To realize a peaceful transfer of government in February, a presidential election must be held by Dec. 20," Lee said.
"To enable the election, the ruling and opposition parties must complete negotiations and jointly produce a constitutional amendment bill by the end of August and pass it through Parliament by early in October."
The change, he added, must then be endorsed in a referendum before the end of October, and the presidential election law, which now provides for choosing the president through an electoral college, would have to be revised in early November.
South Korea's present constitution is an authoritarian document drafted and imposed by Chun and his military-backed regime seven years ago.
The prospect of direct elections has generated rivalry between the two Kims. Both are known to aspire to the presidency, but they have vowed there will be only one opposition candidate running against Roh. The opposition vote was split in the last free presidential elections 16 years ago.
The two Kims have devoted considerable energy to searching out backing for their individual candidacies, in spite of their repeated public pledges to support a single candidate to oppose Roh. This has attracted criticism from other opposition quarters, which have chided them for placing personal ambitions above the welfare of the nation.
On Saturday, President Lee Man Sup of the small opposition Korea National Party told reporters, "It is regrettable that negotiations on constitutional reform have been delayed because of competition for presidential candidacy and differences over other major political issues between Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung."