SEOUL, South Korea — More than 90% of South Korea's 25.9 million eligible voters are expected to turn out for next Wednesday's presidential election, and the winner's margin, as one newspaper put it, will be "as thin as a snowflake."
Newspapers in Seoul arrived at the 90% figure after studying unpublished surveys and the comments of political analysts and officials of all three major political parties.
In the last direct presidential election, in 1971, the turnout was 83.2%.
The newspapers Joong-ang Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Korea Herald and Korea Times all reported Wednesday that any candidate who gets as many as 8 million votes, about 35% of the 23 million expected to be cast, will be the winner.
With as few as 7.8 million votes, according to the Dong-A Ilbo, a candidate could win by 500,000 to 1 million votes.
It said the race is getting closer. The expected margin of victory, it said, has narrowed to about 1% compared to the 2.5% forecast two weeks ago.
To avoid violating the Presidential Election Law, which prohibits surveys that could influence voting behavior, none of the newspapers ranked the three front-runners: the ruling party's Roh Tae Woo and opposition candidates Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam.
Yet one well-placed analyst said that Roh, "with all the trappings of the government candidacy, should be further ahead than he is now."
'Too Close to Call'
"No other government candidate in South Korea has ever been in a race too close to call a week before the election," he said.
Until the late President Park Chung Hee assumed authoritarian powers in 1972, South Korea had held five direct presidential elections, the last of which, in 1971, was the closest. In that race, Park finished with 53.2% of the vote against 45.3% for Kim Dae Jung.
None of the analyses mentioned the possibility that either Kim Young Sam or Kim Dae Jung might bow out of the race at the last minute and throw his support to the other. Such a development would doom Roh's chances, Korean and foreign analysts say.
Meanwhile, students seeking to persuade the two Kims to agree on a single opposition candidate continued a sit-in they began Tuesday at the headquarters of both opposition parties in Seoul, as well as at 10 regional party offices. They threatened Wednesday to resort to violence unless one of the Kims drops out by the weekend.
Also shaping up as a matter of concern is how the losers will behave after the election. Roh said in a speech that he expects student demonstrations if he wins.
"But people will not sympathize with them," he added. "I have confidence I can control student demonstrations. . . . As a strong wind cannot force you to take off your coat but warm sunshine can, I will change their minds with warm-hearted and just policies. . . ."
There has been speculation that people in the Cholla region, in the southwest, will riot in the event of the defeat of Kim Dae Jung, a native of the region, and that the military will intervene if he wins. And there are fears that people throughout the country will rise up if Roh wins through ballot-rigging.
In Washington, the Reagan Administration urged an honest election and cautioned the losers to play constructive roles afterward, news agencies reported.
Gaston Sigur, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, said: "Anyone--supporters of the government or the opposition--who might attempt to subvert the election process or put aside the results of a fair and open selection risks the condemnation of history, the Korean people and the world's democratic community."
The winner, he said in a speech to the World Affairs Council, must institute fundamental human rights and make democracy work, by "cooperation and compromise."
The losers' role, Sigur said, is to be a "responsible opposition," supporting the new government--opposing it in a democratic way--and preparing for the next election.