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S. Korea Sets Up Polls for Election Wednesday : Ballots, Booths and Registration Lists Sent to Voting Sites as Hard Campaign Winds Down

December 15, 1987|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — After long weeks of political maneuvering and rancorous, sometimes violent campaigning, the mundane tools of decision-making went out Monday.

Trucks of the Central Election Management Commission rolled through Seoul and the South Korean provinces bearing the ballot boxes, poll booths, registration lists and ballots for Wednesday's presidential election.

Here in the capital, after the last weekend of mass rallies, potential voters moved through the workday. Except for an occasional sound truck blaring a campaign song, the streets were quiet with an air of expectation.

The politicking continued, but without great fervor. Ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo went on handshake tours of a few market streets. Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, the opposition rivals, called in vain on each other to withdraw.

13,000 Polling Places

For the government's election bureaucracy, the final process of conducting South Korea's first direct presidential vote in 16 years began. Voting equipment was shipped to the country's 13,657 polling places, from tiny islands off the southern coast to farm villages in the north. Other materials went out to the country's 245 counting stations, where the first partial results of the hard-fought election will be broadcast to an expectant country on nationwide television.

At the schools, neighborhood offices and public halls where the votes will be cast, election boards composed of teachers, lawyers and other professionals must have the materials arranged and booths erected by 7 a.m. Wednesday, when the polls open for South Korea's 25,873,624 eligible voters. The 854,700 absentee votes have already been cast, mostly by military personnel, but not counted.

High Turnout Predicted

Government and foreign analysts predict a turnout of 88% to 90%.

Inside the polling places, across from the table of the election officials and in clear sight of the process, may sit two observers for each of the contending candidates. On the streets outside, teams of unofficial watchers will be on the lookout for election fraud.

The watchdog groups will include members of dissident, church, human rights and political organizations, including combined teams from the parties of the two Kims and the third major opposition candidate, Kim Jong Pil. Foreign observers committed so far include the National Republican and Democratic Institutes, representing the two major American political parties, and the International Human Rights Law Group.

Watching the watchers, the voters and the managers will be the Korean press, an estimated 300 foreign journalists and as many as 50,000 armed national police officers, two at every polling place and more at the counting stations.

Despite the safeguards, opposition politicians have decried what they charge is a systematic plan by the ruling party for widespread election day fraud.

"All I'm saying is there's a probability," Kim Dae Jung told a press conference last week. "We have to do something to stop it."

Focus on Vote Count

After all the charges, from all sides, of unfair practices in the campaign, the focus is now on the vote count.

"If it all looks fair, then the people will accept the result," said one Western diplomat. "If it looks raggedy around the edges and Roh wins by 500,000 votes, then they've got a problem."

Meanwhile, there were some last-minute controversies Monday:

-- President Chun Doo Hwan appointed a new minister of construction, replacing Lee Kyu Hyo, who resigned Sunday over a remark he made Friday in the southern city of Pusan. Referring to violent protests that disrupted one Roh rally and aborted another last week in Kim Dae Jung's Cholla region, Lee told a ruling party politician:

"Did you see the Chonju and Kunsan citizens harass the campaign? If we retain power, let's give them a good teaching."

Roh, advised of the remark, said of Lee, "He is disgusting," according to the Korea Herald.

-- The parties of Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam and the dissident National Coalition for Democracy called on the government to renew its investigation of the death of a soldier in barracks violence on Dec. 4. A spokesman for Kim Dae Jung's party said the man was beaten to death by military superiors when they discovered he cast an absentee ballot for Kim.

A Defense Ministry spokesman conceded Sunday that the soldier was killed in a "disciplinary action" by superiors but denied that it was connected to his absentee vote, which was cast the day he died. The ministry said his death was an accident.

-- Thirty employees of the government-controlled Korean Broadcasting System staged a strike protesting what they said was unfair election coverage and called on officials to apologize on the air. No apology has been made.

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