SEOUL, JUNE 29 (MONDAY) -- South Korea's ruling party, in a bold attempt to end the current political crisis, recommended today that the government give in to the opposition's longstanding demand for direct presidential elections.
Party chairman Roh Tae Woo announced on national television that he would propose this step and other liberalizing changes to President Chun Doo Hwan. Ruling party members said they thought Chun would accept.
"In order to prevent social disorder and listen to the people's voice, I have decided I must respect the people's judgment," he said.
The party leader also recommended that the political rights of leading dissident Kim Dae Jung be restored, many political prisoners released and press restrictions eased.
Roh said the constitution should be amended to implement the new system before Chun's term ends on Feb. 25. That would mean the next president would be elected under the new system, probably this fall.
Roh said that if Chun does not accept his proposals, Roh would resign as the party's candidate for president and from all other posts, including his chairmanship of the ruling Democratic Justice Party.
Kim Young Sam, president of the main opposition party, welcomed Roh's statement, which came after 2 1/2 weeks of antigovernment street demonstrations that have attracted wide public sympathy.
Kim Young Sam told Korean reporters that if the plan went through, this year would be the greatest in South Korea's history.
Kim Dae Jung said: "Mr. Roh's statement is a drastic turn of events, and I believe this will surely accelerate the ushering-in of a new era of Korean politics. I expect President Chun, who is supposed to make the ultimate decision, will immediately accept Mr. Roh's proposal."
He added, "at the same time I thank the entire world for its show of support to our people."
Roh's recommendation that Kim Dae Jung have his political rights restored would make him legally free to run in the election.
In addition, Roh promised to cooperate with the opposition to revise the presidential election law to make the election freer, release as many political prisoners as possible, to guarantee basic human rights, to liberalize press controls and take other liberalization steps.
A party caucus is scheduled for 2 p.m. this afternoon to discuss Roh's proposals. A presidential spokesman said the proposals would be forwarded to Chun and he would make a decision soon.
Hyun Hong Choo, a ruling party spokesman, said: "This is the overriding sense of the DJP members . . . . Without it, there will be no solution for the recent confrontation and turmoil."
Roh said the measures would have to be worked out with the opposition through cooperation and consensus, leaving many obstacles still to be surmounted in a country where hatred and distrust between government and opposition run deep.
Still, the announcement represents a reversal seen only rarely in the four-decade history of South Korea, where political positions are often set in stone.
With it, the government seems to hope to dissipate widespread popular support for students who, in defiance of the authorities, have staged almost three weeks of demonstrations around South Korea, at times paralyzing city centers.
Currently, the president is elected under an indirect electoral-college system. The opposition says this is open to manipulation by the ruling party and is intended to perpetuate rule by Chun, whom they regard as a miltary dictator, or his supporters.
Starting with a parliamentary election in February 1985, the opposition has been demanding a direct election system. In the spring of 1986, it staged demonstrations, leading the government to agree to negotiate a change.
However, the government quickly ruled that the only acceptable new form of government was a Cabinet system headed by a prime minister. Talks broke down and Chun formally suspended them on April 13, a highly unpopular decision.
On June 10, the ruling party nominated Roh as its candidate in an indirect election scheduled for the end of the year. The demonstrations began that day.
Ruling party officials said today they expected Roh would be renominated as the ruling party's candidate under the new system.
There was no immediate word on who would likely be the oppositon party's candidate. Kim Dae Jung is often said to be unacceptable to the military, which by tradition holds a de facto veto over who becomes president.
Late last year, Kim Dae Jung offered not to run for the presidency if Chun would agree to direct presidential elections. It is not clear if he will feel that statement still has validity.
Many ruling party members have been shocked by public sympathy for the demonstrations.
"I really welcome the decision," said one ruling party National Assembly member this morning. "It is the desire of the great majority of the people that has been expressed in the last few weeks."
The government had been concerned over talk that the present turmoil might cause the 1988 Summer Olympics to be moved out of Seoul.
"With the Olympics in the not far distant future, the responsibility to prevent national shame lies with all the people," Roh said on television this morning. "We have to overcome our difficulties with wisdom and consideration of the historical position that does not favor retreat but favors development."
Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung met this morning for consultations at their party headquarters. Kim Dae Jung had been released from house arrest earlier under the terms of concessions Chun offered last week.