SEOUL, South Korea — The ruling party and the main opposition party on Wednesday resolved a dispute over the timing of parliamentary elections, taking a major step toward approval of a constitutional amendment aimed at bringing democracy to South Korea.
Negotiators for the ruling Democratic Justice Party and the opposition Reunification Democratic Party agreed that elections for the National Assembly should take place within six months after promulgation of the new constitution.
Promulgation is expected late next month after the new constitution is approved by the National Assembly and by the electorate in a national referendum. The new constitution is to provide the framework for a mid-December presidential election, the first free presidential election in this country in 16 years.
The ruling party had insisted that parliamentary elections be held before Feb. 25, when President Chun Doo Hwan is scheduled to leave office after completing a seven-year term. The opposition had wanted an April date.
The practical effect of the compromise language announced Wednesday was not immediately clear, but most of the South Korean press interpreted it to mean that National Assembly elections are likely to take place in February.
This is partly because Chun has constitutional authority to dissolve the current National Assembly but the president to be elected under the new constitution will not have this power.
"Our party still favors holding the general elections sometime before the inauguration of the new government next February," Assemblyman Choi Young Choul of the ruling party told the Korea Times.
Opposition Assemblyman Park Yong Man told reporters that a specific date for the parliamentary elections will be decided in consultation between Chun and his elected successor.
Wednesday's agreement paves the way for submission of the final draft of the constitutional amendment to the National Assembly. This is now expected to take place Friday or Saturday.
Meanwhile, competition appears to be intensifying between Kim Young Sam, 58, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, and Kim Dae Jung, 63, South Korea's other top opposition leader, over which of them should be the party nominee in the December election.
Aides to Kim Dae Jung said Wednesday that he intends to go ahead with plans to make more campaign-style trips to provincial cities later this month, despite a request from Kim Young Sam that he discontinue such activities until a decision is made on who should be the nominee.
The two Kims have pledged that just one of them will run in the December election, but they have not agreed on who it should be.
Roh Tae Woo, 54, head of the Democratic Justice Party and its presidential nominee, arrives in Tokyo today on his way back to South Korea from a visit to Washington. He is due in Seoul on Saturday.
Kim Jong Pil, 61, prime minister under the late President Park Chung Hee and chief architect of the 1961 coup that put Park in power, has given strong hints in recent days that he intends to join the presidential race as a third-party candidate.
Supporters of Kim Jong Pil include at least half a dozen assemblymen who are members of the Korea National Party, which holds 20 of the National Assembly's 273 seats. He is expected to take steps to form a new party and to announce his candidacy this month.
Kim Dae Jung has said he believes that a Kim Jong Pil candidacy would draw support away from Roh rather than from the main opposition nominee.