YAMAK-RI, SOUTH KOREA, DEC. 14 -- Woo Duk Ri, 71, a farmer and general store keeper for this small village, sat on the heated floor of his traditional Korean home and discussed his meager hopes for Wednesday's presidential election.
"We are hearing many tasty promises, but we do not believe they will come true," Woo said. "We farmers do not expect much. So what we really want is stability and the blocking of left-leaning radicals."
If ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo wins this nation's first direct election in 16 years, it will be thanks to the support of hundreds of villages such as Yamak-ri, population 250, and thousands of farmers such as the jaded Woo. Rural voters could account for one-fourth of Wednesday's ballots, despite South Korea's rapid industrialization.
Woo and much of his generation feel in their guts the nation's phenomenal economic growth that others express in statistics, such as the increase in per capita gross national product from $87 when the Korean war ended in 1953 to more than $2,500 today. Woo remembers the hungry months in spring and summer, after the previous year's rice had run out and the next crop wasn't ready, and he is grateful that these days there is food all year.
"Life has become very good," he said. "Overall, we don't have any serious complaints with this government."
The campaign to succeed President Chun Doo Hwan, who has promised to step down in February, has become increasingly polarized in the past two weeks. Opposition candidates Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam have accused Roh of trying to steal the election, while Roh has said that only he can guarantee stability and ward off chaos.
To Woo and neighbors Lee Bu Song, 69, and Park Chong Son, 62, Roh's warnings are more convincing. Woo said he wants a president who can control leftists, who, he said, could weaken the nation and facilitate an invasion by communist North Korea.
Woo speaks from experience, since he was living in this village 37 years ago when North Korea attacked.
"When the communists came in, they promised us all kinds of nice things," Woo said. "But when they were retreating, they were like hell -- they destroyed everything."
As Woo spoke, fighter jets from the nearby U.S. Air Force base at Osan roared overhead.
Woo's friend Lee also said he mistrusts the opposition's glowing promises, such as to wipe away farmers' heavy debts.
"How can the president repay the debts for us?" Lee asked. "The money will come from our pockets somehow, so what good does that do? We should work hard to repay our debts."
The farmers of Yamak-ri acknowledged that their children, who do not share their memories of civil war and hunger, also do not share their political outlook. Most of their children have left the village, although some work in the new factories whose smoke can be seen rising beyond the brown-stubbled fields that surround the village.
"We talk once in a while, but nowadays we have different ways of thinking," Park said. As he spoke, Park's 25-year-old son, a university student, entered the room and said he would not follow his father's lead in voting for Roh.
But Park said he has little reason to turn the present regime out of power, despite the opposition's slogans about ending military rule. He pointed to the telephone, which arrived in his household four years ago, to the three-year-old color television, the 10-year-old refrigerator.
"They're all saying nice things, but I believe a continuation of the present system may be best for us," Park said. "The change and confusion is what I don't like."