South Korean President Park Chung Hee is to be given a new six-year term today in the predictable columination of an election that offered all the suspense of ice melting under a hot sun.
Park will be the only candidate voted on by the National Conference for Unification, a sort of electoral college that was elected in May according to restrictive rules laid down by Park's government under martial law six years ago.
It operates on the assumption that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. No one who has been politically active in the past three years can be elected to the conference, and that excludes the weak opposition parties.
Anyone who has violated a law is also excluded and that takes care of the country's dissidents, most of whom Park government.
The only surprise was the early timing of today's election, which had been expected to take place this fall. The government announced last Saturday that it would be held this week, leaving little time for politicking if anyone wanted to attempt opposition. No one did.
Observers here said the government apparently wanted to avert any build-up of criticism by holding the election today instead of waiting several months.
The New Democratic Party, a weak opposition group, decided last spring not to try fielding a candidate because political activists are excluded and said its nonparticipation is a protest against the electoral system.
The party issued a statement yesterday vowing continued opposition to the system, demanding an end to Park's proclamations that stifle dissent and calling for "respect for human rights."
In an interview, party chairman Lee Chul Seung said his party is concentrating on parliamentary elections later in the year, hoping to increase their 56 seats in the National Assembly to 77, or one third of its membership.
"It will be very hard but we will try," Lee said. One obstacle is the fact that the National Conference on Unification, of which Park is chairman approves one third of the assembly's members without a public vote.
Political activities on behalf of other candidates are strictly limited. Only a few outdoor rallies are sanctioned and the total amount of campaigning must be packed into 18 days.
Until 1971, South Korea operated under a direct-election system and in the voting that year Park was almost toppled by Kim Dae Jung, who got 45 percent of the vote, Kim subsequently was arrested and is now imprisoned in a hospital.
The new election law was written in 1972 and under its tight limits Park was elected to a six-year term that year.
The National Conference on Unification consists of 2,583 members, mostly small businessmen and farmers who seek election as members in order to enjoy the privilege of electing a president. During the campaign in May, a number of dissenters protested the electoral system by boycotting the vote and burning voter registration cards. By constant prodding however, the government managed to get out 80 percent of the registered voters.
By law, the members today could choose from among all the presidential candidates who succeeded in being nominated by at least 200 delegates. When nominations closed yesterday, however, only Park's name has been put forth. His nomination bore the names of 507 members of the conference.
Today, the members will go through the motions of electing him by secret ballot and Park is expected to accept their choice in a speech at a gymnasium near downtown Seoul.
In the past, the government has defended the electoral system as necessary to avoid turmoil and dissension which would play into the hands of Communists in North Korea.
The government insists that the presidential choice represents the will of ordinary people in the society since the politicians are excluded.
If the 60-year-old Park serves out his next full term, he will have been president of South Korea for 21 years a period marked by rapid economic growth as well as by endless controversy over the suppression of civil rights and the arrests of dissenters.