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Ruling Party, Opposition Both Come In for Angry Criticism : Koreans in L.A. Express Fears Over Election

December 17, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

Up and down Vermont Avenue, in the nub of Koreatown, immigrants such as Clarence Lee shared the buzz of anticipation Wednesday, the sense that South Korea's first election in 16 years would bring something truly momentous to the country and families they had left behind.

Lee, 33, emigrated from South Korea 18 years ago and has lived ever since in the pulsing ethnic enclave just west of downtown Los Angeles. He had come to the Korea Times newspaper to watch the latest election results being posted on a large signboard outside.

But as he stood in the cold and rain--the realization slowly sinking in that ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo was about to become the country's new president--Lee could only shake his head in resignation.

'Taken Country by Force'

"I am Korean. I want what is just and fair for the country. But the ruling party has taken the country by force," said Lee, responding to reports of massive voter fraud. "Now they have to be driven out by force. There is no other choice."

In the restaurants, grocery stores and newspaper offices of Koreatown--the largest community of Koreans outside South Korea--there was disbelief, anger and the fear that Roh's victory would bring only more chaos and bloodshed.

Much of the anger was directed at the two opposition party candidates, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam. Several Korean-Americans said they became disenchanted when the opposition failed to unite and decide on one of them.

"They were not running for the people. They were running for their own sake, their own egos," said Jay Moon, who left South Korea 10 years ago and now owns a pizza parlor. "I'm so mad that I now support Mr. Roh."

Moon said he was representative of a large bloc of undecided voters in South Korea who, frustrated over the opposition's inability to unite, began taking Roh more seriously. Roh, a longtime military general and ally of President Chun Doo Hwan, seemed to mollify opposition party supporters by distancing himself from the military and promising democracy.

"I feel safer with Roh," said Sung Hee Lee, 25, a market checker who left South Korea only last year. "He has shown an ability to hold things in control. And I believe him when he says he wants democracy."

Calls Beging at 3 A.M.

At the Korea Times, America's largest Korean bilingual daily, where the clocks are set to Seoul time (17 hours ahead), City Editor Tom Byun said the phone calls began pouring in at 3 a.m, one every 20 seconds. Koreans from as far away as Alaska and Florida wanted to know how South Korea's first free election in 16 years was proceeding.

"This is one of the biggest days in the Korean immigrant community," Byun said.

Daniel Cho, an attorney and member of a Los Angeles committee to elect Roh that helped raise funds for the candidate, said Korean voters had given the ruling party a clear mandate.

Roh received 36.6% of the vote. Together the two Kims received 53.2% of the votes cast, with 89.3% of the ballots counted.

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