South Koreans repudiate Roh in Assembly voting Economy, feuds cost party its majority

March 25, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea -- In a stunning repudiation of President Roh Tae Woo, South Korean voters yesterday deprived the Democratic Liberal Party of a majority in the National Assembly, venting popular discontent over the nation's shaky economy and feuding politicians.

"We watched the election results with shock and disappointment, but we will humbly accept the people's will," Kim Yoon Hwan, secretary-general of Mr. Roh's party, said in conceding defeat.

However, in post-election horse-trading, the ruling party is expected to woo enough unaffiliated winners over to its side to secure a bare majority in the Assembly. The party fell one seat shy -- a steep decline from the 72 percent of the seats it gained after merging with two opposition parties in 1990.

The protest votes went principally in two directions: Kim Dae Jung, the fiery opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate, led his Peace and Democracy Party to an unexpectedly strong showing, securing more than a third of the seats. And Chung Ju Yung, founder of the Hyundai conglomerate, who rattled the establishment with his wild-card candidacy, set himself up as a serious new political force.

The election results recast the shape of South Korean politics, opened a crack in the cozy business-government relations and threw open the outcome of this year's presidential race, scheduled for December.

Kim Young Sam, the former opposition leader who joined forces with Mr. Roh two years ago and had hoped to succeed him as president, will now have to fight bitterly for his party's nomination. Meanwhile, Mr. Chung is sure to run for president, along with Kim Dae Jung, said Park Ki Jung, political editor of the newspaper Dong-A.

The ruling party had vigorously campaigned on the issue of stability, saying it could best navigate the nation through rough economic waters and into rapprochement with communist North Korea. The party had also hoped to win a two-thirds majority in order to push through a constitutional amendment changing to a parliamentary Cabinet system -- which tends to perpetuate the ruling party's power. That possibility is now all but dead.

"The voters supported our platform that a strong opposition is needed to check the giant ruling party," Kim Dae Jung told reporters.

But Kim Kwang Woong, Seoul National University professor of political science, said Kim Dae Jung's success was also surprising, because voters were dissatisfied with all incumbents. Some Koreans had come to view Mr. Kim as a political anachronism who had once fought bravely for democracy but now is unequipped to handle the complexities of international diplomacy and economic competition.

The election results demonstrated the degree of anxiety and discontent over the economy, observers said.

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