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Analysis : Roh Task: Healing 'Wounds, Pains' : Victory Margin May Help Him Ease S. Korean Divisions

December 19, 1987|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — The opposition charges of massive voter fraud in Wednesday's presidential election ensure that victor Roh Tae Woo's promise to heal South Korea's political "wounds and pains" will not be easy to keep, whatever his intentions.

While for some, the former general's surprise 1.94-million vote margin has removed concerns that South Korea would be racked by violence and instability in the months ahead, the bitter divisions that spring from regional antipathies and the hatreds engendered by years of repression have already re-emerged on the streets of Seoul, Kwangju and other major cities.

For two days now, battles have raged between police and students who believe that Roh and his ruling Democratic Justice party stole the election from opposition candidates Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung.

So far, at least, the protests have not equaled the ferocity of those last June. That month, 18 days of street demonstrations swept the country, forcing authoritarian President Chun Doo Hwan on July 1 to call off plans to rubber-stamp Roh as his successor and, instead, to allow a direct presidential election, which was held Wednesday.

Now, however, with the end of the school year near and an ensuing vacation that disperses students from the campuses until the beginning of April, the prospects of major violence occurring in the near term are significantly lessened.

Role of Middle Class

There is another important factor. In the June demonstrations, office workers and middle-class citizens applauded from the sidewalks as students battled barrages of police tear gas with firebombs and rocks in the streets.

"But now, the election has been carried out under a new constitution," one South Korean analyst noted. He predicted that the middle class is unlikely to lend its support to protests unless Chun and Roh brutally suppress the protests.

"In dealing with any demonstrations, the more non-confrontational the government acts, the better," said one Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified.

That has not been the government's policy so far. Instead of promising to investigate suspicions of students holding ballot boxes at a district office building in Seoul, the Central Election Management Commission dismissed the charges without investigation and Chun sent in the riot police. The result was a bloody two-hour battle that made a mockery of Roh's promise of "warm-hearted policies and persuasion."

Chun Still in Charge

Analysts also noted that the hard-line Chun, not Roh, will be directing police actions until Feb. 25 when he turns over power to the president-elect.

Nonetheless, as Chong Un Bung, city editor of the Korea Times, put it in a post-election commentary, "It will be difficult to convince the people that Roh's 2-million vote margin over the two Kims could possibly have been the result of manipulation."

"His margin was astounding," said one member of the Establishment, who asked not to be identified. "No one expected that."

Although detailed analysis of voting remains to be done, some analysts believe that one of the reasons so many voters remained undecided until the last moment--and then apparently voted for Roh--was that they kept hoping until the last that either Kim Young Sam or Kim Dae Jung would drop out of the race, leaving only one candidate to appeal to those pressing for democratic reforms.

Quest for Personal Power

The two Kims, however, made it clear in the campaign's closing days--by vicious attacks upon each other--that personal power meant more to them than victory for a democratic champion.

"The bottom line is not election-rigging but the fact that the two Kims threw away victory by their split," said an American missionary, noting the 55% of the votes they gathered between them.

Not only the defeat itself but its pattern proved devastating to the two liberal Kims.

Kim Dae Jung showed that he is the champion of the downtrodden southwest Cholla region and of Cholla migrants to Seoul--but of little else. In the Cholla region's main city of Kwangju, he won an unprecedented 94% of the votes. In Seoul, where 28% of the population are Cholla natives, he won 32% of the vote.

But elsewhere he drew only weak support, ranging down to 2.6% in Roh's native city of Taegu.

Mainly a Regional Leader

Even more embarrassing for Kim Dae Jung was the second-place finish of his rival, Kim Young Sam, which disproved Kim Dae Jung's pre-election claims that he was the "people's choice" as the candidate to carry the opposition banner.

Kim, whose persecution by various military governments had given him an international reputation, emerged from the election not as a leader of South Korea but mainly of the Cholla region.

But while Kim Dae Jung's rock-solid Cholla following, worth about a quarter of the nation's votes, assures him of a minority role in politics in the future, Kim Young Sam does not even have that.

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