CHUN CHON, SOUTH KOREA, NOV. 18 -- Ruling party presidential candidate Roh Tae Woo, under fire for his role in the 1979 coup that brought the current regime to power, counterattacked here yesterday, warning of "confusion and disorder" if the opposition wins the presidency.

Speaking to a small, unenthusiastic crowd in this provincial capital near the North Korean border, Roh admitted the government has made mistakes. "The next government will be free of corruption, irregularities and dishonesty," he said.

But he said that a victory by opposition candidates Kim Dae Jung or Kim Young Sam would be fatal for South Korea, which boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is scheduled to host the Olympics next summer.

"Stability will be broken, the Olympics will be washed away, the economy will be depressed. Morale will be lowered, exports will be reduced," Roh said. "We are at a crossroads, to retreat to the confusion of 1980 or pave the way for development into the next century."

In the Dec. 16 poll, Roh, the handpicked candidate of President Chun Doo Hwan, is facing the two opposition Kims and Kim Jong Pil, a former premier.

Roh claimed that 100,000 people turned out to hear him speak here. But the crowd appeared less than one-fifth that size, and several of those interviewed had little good to say about the candidate. Bystanders said that local residents had been paid to attend, with an extra bonus for those willing to carry placards.

Both opposition Kims have drawn bigger and more enthusiastic crowds. Since television is controlled by the government and public opinion polls are illegal and unreliable here, the Kims have relied on mass rallies to generate and to demonstrate support.

An aide to Roh acknowledged that he is not a charismatic leader or spellbinding speaker. But he said that Roh is trying to project an image of honesty and stability that will impress voters who do not attend rallies. "Koreans have always been conservative when they finally come to vote," the aide said.

Park Tae Il, a food wholesaler in the crowd, agreed. "I think stability is the most important thing," he said. "I think people are looking for a leader who can deliver stability." Park also said recent opposition charges about Roh's role in the 1979 coup have not had much impact in the provinces. Roh has acknowledged that, as a general then, he ordered border units to Seoul to guarantee Chun's takeover. He said that action was necessary to forestall chaos after the assassination of president Park Chung Hee.

"Only intellectual circles are interested," Park, the businessman in the crowd, said. "Ordinary people are not paying much attention."