SEOUL, JULY 23 -- All 79 opposition members of South Korea's National Assembly today submitted their resignations to press a demand for a new general election.
While the resignations are not likely to be accepted, they drew attention to what opposition leader Kim Dae Jung has called an undemocratic pattern of maneuvers by President Roh Tae Woo and the ruling Democratic Liberal Party.
The move also appeared to mark a new stage in the maneuvering between Democratic Liberal Party chairman Kim Young Sam, who had until this year been the nation's second most prominent opposition leader, and his rival, Kim Dae Jung. Both men are believed to be keen on becoming president, and each seems to be trying to undercut the other's standing, according to politicians and foreign diplomats here.
Today's resignations require either the approval of Assembly Speaker Park Jun Kyu who, aides say, has no intention of approving them, or approval by the Assembly, which is in recess until September and is controlled by the conservative Democratic Liberal Party. The party has already said it will not approve the resignations or call new elections.
But while not likely to force a new election, the political turbulence could upset the government's delicate talks with Communist North Korea over arranging a meeting of prime ministers and organizing a trial opening of their sealed border. North Korea, which today rebuffed Seoul's proposal last week to open the border for five days beginning Aug. 13 and called for high-level talks instead, could use the South's domestic problems as an excuse to call off the prime ministers' talks.
Opposition members -- 71 from Kim Dae Jung's Party for Peace and Democracy and eight from the Democratic Party -- decided to submit their resignations after the ruling party earlier this month rammed 26 bills through the Assembly in 30 seconds, not allowing any debate despite objections by the opposition. A few days earlier, rival lawmakers had assaulted each other and two were hospitalized.
The decision by party leader Kim Young Sam to ignore opposition objections in the Assembly was seen by observers as an attempt to assert his new power and humiliate Kim Dae Jung. The opposition leader is in turn trying to use the resignations to highlight what he sees as Kim Young Sam's abandonment of principles he had once championed, many diplomats and politicians believe.
Over the past year, the government has quashed workers' efforts to establish a teachers union and set up an umbrella federation of militant labor unions. The government has also jailed a handful of dissidents who illegally visited North Korea to promote unification.
More than 200,000 people attended an opposition rally on Saturday to denounce Roh's alleged backtracking on democratization and back the call for new elections.
The Democratic Liberal Party, aware that its domestic and international standing would be tarnished if it operated the Assembly without the participation of the opposition, seems eager to negotiate an end to the stalemate. The opposition has hinted that the resignations might be withdrawn if the disputed bills are sent back to committee and if the ruling party changes its allegedly negative attitude toward democratization.
The opposition is demanding, among other things, local elections, which the ruling party promised long ago. Mayors and governors in South Korea are appointed by the national government even though the opposition enjoys majority support in several provinces and could win a mayoral election in Seoul.
Roh shocked the nation in January by merging his ruling party with two opposition parties led by Kim Young Sam and Kim Jong Pil. The new Democratic Liberal Party was designed to encompass a broad spectrum of political factions and ensure political stability by holding a commanding majority in the National Assembly. Such stability has not occurred, at least in part because the new ruling party seems to be following the same policies pursued by its predecessor. The DLP lost a recent by-election for a safe seat in a usually pro-government area.