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Roh Wins S. Korea Presidential Vote : Ruling Party's Victory Challenged by Opposition; Violence Threatened

December 17, 1987|SAM JAMESON and NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writers

SEOUL, South Korea — Roh Tae Woo, the former general whose nomination as the ruling party's standard-bearer sparked 18 days of nationwide protests last June, won South Korea's presidency by a surprising margin of nearly 2 million votes, according to results announced today.

Roh received 36.6% of the vote in Wednesday's election, outpolling two strong foes, whose supporters immediately challenged the results and threatened violence. Police warned that they would suppress any demonstrations.

A split between Roh's main rivals, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, gave him a big boost. They failed to keep their promise to field a single opposition candidate, and their mudslinging at one another repulsed many would-be supporters, Korean analysts said.

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

Roh, whose military background and close friendship with authoritarian President Chun Doo Hwan was the focal point of an opposition attack vowing to "end military rule," swept his home province, performed strongly in farm areas, won the Seoul suburbs and finished second in the capital itself.

Victory Exceeded Forecasts

With the backing of power-oriented voters--the business community, bureaucrats, the armed forces, and the upper class--as well as an apparently significant part of the middle class, Roh won a victory that far exceeded forecasts.

All South Korean newspapers, as well as foreign analysts, had called the contest a tossup, with the winner expected to win by no more than 1 million votes. Even the ruling Democratic Justice Party had foreseen no more than a margin of 7 percentage points for Roh over his nearest competitor.

Roh's 7,536,000 votes gave him a margin of almost 10 percentage points over moderate, compromise-minded Kim Young Sam, who polled 5,563,000 votes or 27% of those cast.

Kim Dae Jung, the sole opposition candidate in the last direct presidential election in 1971, had 5,385,000 votes, or 26.2%, while Kim Jong Pil, a strongman of the 1961-79 Park Chung Hee era, finished a distant fourth, with 1,641,000 votes, or 8.9%.

Roh, who stunned the nation last June 29 by promising to transform South Korea's government from an authoritarian to a democratic system and permit Wednesday's direct election, waged a campaign that combined promises for new freedoms with threats of chaos if any of the three opposition Kims won. Depicting himself as "a common man," he said he would "open an era of the common man" and urged the voters to "end the era of the three Kims."

All three Kims were purged from politics by Chun when he came to power in 1980 in a coup supported by Roh. The ban on most of those purged was removed in 1985 but Kim Dae Jung's civil rights were restored only last July, enabling him to run in the election.

Roh's victory makes it likely that the leadership structure of both the bureaucracy, which led the nation from abject poverty in 1961 to near-affluence today, and of the armed forces will remain intact. It also eliminated uncertainties of a transition period that will last until Feb. 25, when Chun steps down.

U.S. Hails 'Historic' Vote

Without waiting for charges of widespread fraud to be investigated, the State Department, in Washington, called the election "historic" and praised South Koreans' "determination to vote."

A top American diplomat, William Clark Jr., deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for four days of talks with South Korean leaders on post-election U.S.-Korean relations. The United States has more than 43,000 troops stationed here.

Roh, aware that victory did not bring an immediate guarantee of stability, appealed to citizens to accept the outcome.

In a press conference this morning, the president-elect declared that "the work of reconciliation will be my major task." The campaign, he said, has aggravated regional rivalries and class conflicts.

Will Keep Referendum Pledge

Asked whether he would keep his campaign pledge to hold a referendum on his presidency after next year's Summer Olympics in Seoul, and leave office if it failed, Roh replied: "I'm going to put my track record before the people. Yes, I'm going to have the vote of confidence."

He rejected opposition charges of election fraud as "random rumors and disinformation" and said it was the two Kims who must have awakened this morning and asked, "What happened?" Roh provided an answer. "If they are sensible, they will see that division was the cause of defeat," he told reporters, saying that a combined opposition would "facilitate dialogue" with his government. Roh also attributed the opposition loss to what he called "an alliance of convenience with radical forces."

Meanwhile, officials of both Kim Dae Jung's and Kim Young Sam's parties charged massive fraud in the voting. Kim Dae Jung scheduled a news conference for this afternoon. Kim Young Sam made no immediate statement.

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