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S. Korean Leader Seeks a Recall-Type Election

October 13, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — South Korea's beleaguered President Roh Moo Hyun proposed today what would amount to a recall election to be held around Dec. 15 and promised to resign if the public did not give him a vote of confidence.

Such a recall is unusual in Korean politics, but political experts said they believed that Roh has the authority as president to call for a special election.

If he were to lose, Roh suggested that his resignation take effect two months later and that elections for a new president be held April 15 with a previously scheduled election for the National Assembly.

"I cannot govern under these circumstances. If I cannot accomplish what I've sought to achieve in terms of political reform during the remainder of my term, I am prepared to resign," Roh said today before the assembly.

The 57-year-old Roh, a left-of-center labor lawyer, is less than eight months into what is supposed to be a five-year term.

"This is a very clever strategy on Roh's part. It is in effect a preemptive strike against his opponents and probably the best thing he can do as a minority president to survive," said political scientist Hahm Sung Deuk of Korea University.

Opinion polls published today in the South Korean press showed that Roh would probably win a confidence vote by a margin ranging from 3 to 10 percentage points.

"People don't necessarily like Roh or his ideology, but they want stability in the political leadership, so they think he should finish his term," Hahm said.

Roh's popularity has eroded after financial scandals and moves to send troops to Iraq.

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