Former President Roh, a key man in military coup and witness to democratisation

27-Oct-2021 Intellasia | Koreaherald | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Former President Roh Tae-woo, who served as the 13th president of South Korea, died at the age of 88 on Tuesday.

Roh, who had been ailing for a long time with chronic conditions, had recently been hospitalised at Seoul National University Hospital due to worsening conditions and was receiving intensive treatment.

He was the first president to be elected through a direct election system after the June 1987 democratisation movement. He was also a leading force behind the 12.12 Military Insurrection, along with his colleague Chun Doo-hwan.

Roh, who graduated from the Korea Military Academy in 1955, served as a security commander, the minister of sports and internal affairs, a lawmaker and the leader of then-ruling Democratic Justice Party.

On December 12, 1979, as the head of the 9th Infantry Division, Roh played a key role in the military coup that brought Chun to power.

However, in the process he was instrumental in actions with implications that continue to this day, such as in overseeing the nationwide implementation of emergency martial law that led to the Gwangju Democratisation Uprising in 1980.

However, due to the coup’s success, Roh emerged as second in command of the new military and entered politics as a second minister of political affairs after serving as a commander of security.

He then bleached his military image and transformed into a politician after passing through positions as the first minister of sports, chair of the Seoul Olympic Organising Committee and leader of the Democratic Justice Party.

After emerging as the successor to former President Chun, Roh was nominated as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Justice Party in June 1987.

Roh, as a candidate, announced the “Declaration of Democracy” on June 29, 1987, stating that he would accept it as citizens’ protests demanding a constitutional amendment to the direct election system continued.

The introduction of the direct election system raised the possibility of a regime change to the opposition party. However, as three opposition candidates Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil were divided, Roh won the 1987 presidential election with 36 percent of votes to succeed Chun. This remains the lowest winning proportion of votes in the direct election system since democratisation. Roh served as president from 1988 to 1993.

After then-ruling Democratic Justice Party failed to secure a majority of seats in the 13th general election, Roh pushed ahead with a three-party alliance with Reunification Democratic Party leader Kim Young-sam and New Democratic Republican Party leader Kim Jong-pil to overcome the ruling party’s small number of seats.

Under the slogan, “Ordinary person Roh Tae-woo,” he is considered to have contributed to economic development by establishing democracy, improving diplomatic status and introducing the concept of public land ownership a concept that land ownership and disposal can be restricted for the public interest.

Roh successfully hosted the Seoul Olympics in 1988, helping to raise Korea’s status in the international community.

In addition, by actively pursuing a “Northern Policy” thanks to external circumstances such as the collapse of the Cold War system at the time, he made achievements in establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China, as well as Eastern Bloc communist countries.

Roh likewise also expanded Korea’s diplomatic horizons in 1991 by leading the adoption of a basic agreement between the two Koreas, focusing on simultaneous accession to the United Nations based on incompatibility, exchange and cooperation.

But the glory didn’t last long.

The Kim Young-sam administration, which was launched in 1993, defined the December 12 incident as a coup, changing Roh’s status from a former president to a criminal suspect.

Roh and Chun were arrested in 1995 on charges of collecting bribes from businesspeople while in office. Roh was also indicted on mutiny and treason charges stemming from Chun’s coup and the crackdown that brutally killed hundreds of protesters during the pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju.

Roh was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in jail reduced to 17 years on appeal and hefty fines, while Chun was sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. But both were pardoned in December 1997.

Roh long faced controversy over the unpaid fines, but belatedly paid in full in September 2013.

Entering the 2000s, Roh’s health deteriorated rapidly and he rarely appeared in public. After undergoing prostate cancer surgery in 2002, Roh was hospitalised repeatedly.

Roh is survived by his wife Kim Ok-sook, daughter So-young and son Jae-heon. SK Group Chair Chey Tae-won, who is filing a divorce suit with So-young, is his son-in-law.


Category: Korea

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