South Korea: Slim Mandate

  • Share
  • Read Later

When tough little General Park Chung Hee, 46, boss of South Korea's military junta, doffed khaki for mufti last August to run for President, many expected an elaborately rigged election ending in a landslide for Park. It did not happen that way. Park won—but just barely, and after the freest, most honest election South Korea has known.

Caged Tiger. Washington had prodded Park hard to set a democratic example. Not everything was simon-pure. After one opposition candidate, retired Lieut. General Song Yo ("Tiger") Chan, attacked Park in a speech, the government suddenly charged Song with having executed two subordinates during the Korean war and put him in Seoul's Sodaemun prison, from where he continued to campaign with tape-recorded speeches.

But by Korean standards, the opposition, though badly divided, was remarkably uninhibited. Large crowds rallied to hear Park's chief challenger, ex-President Yun Po Sun, an archaeologist who resigned ten months after Park seized power in 1961, and ex-Premier Huh Chung, a scholarly ex-journalist. They hit out at Park's arbitrary rule and the country's economic plight, openly revived an old charge that he had once flirted with Communism.* Park accused his foes of "McCarthyism."

Harder to answer was a steady, superstitious whispering campaign—supported by nudangs, the female oracles of the Korean countryside—to the effect that military rule was to blame even for crop failures and that "heaven does not favor leaders of short stature and intense nature." Candidate Park criss crossed the country by limousine, chartered an airliner and private railroad car, occasionally made noises about greater independence from the U.S. He was ill at ease in civvies and proved a dull campaigner, once interrupted a speech to plead: "Please give me some applause so that I can take heart."

Fireproof Ballots. On election day the government threw out a batch of ballots in one strongly anti-Park district of Seoul, but such "invalidations" were at a record low. "Power failures" are another standard practice in South Korea on election nights, to facilitate tampering with ballot boxes. But this time the lights went out briefly in only one city, Pusan, and not only was it a bona fide short circuit, but the Central Election Management Committee had foresightedly ordered all polls, Pusan's included, to lay in a supply of candles. Moreover, to prevent the almost customary burning of wooden ballot boxes, Park's regime installed metal boxes. As a result, Park squeaked through by only 156,026 votes—4,702,640 to Yun's 4,546,614, or 43% of the total. Many of General Park's own soldiers apparently voted against him.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2