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S. Korean President Calls for Presidential Referendum - 2003-10-13

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has called for an unprecedented referendum on his eight-month old presidency in the face of harsh political and media criticism. The unprecedented vote could take place before the end of the year.

President Roh, in a speech to the National Assembly Monday, said if he fares poorly in the referendum, he will step down. He stated that a new presidential election could be held simultaneously with next year's parliamentary ballot.

But the president said if he receives a vote of confidence from the public, he will make sweeping changes in his office and Cabinet and set the administration on a new course.

Mr. Roh says the best date for the vote of confidence on his presidency would be around December 15. He says that would give the political parties two months to choose candidates in February for an April 15 election if he does not do well in the referendum.

The president - just eight months into his term - told legislators he feels this is necessary because he has lost confidence in his ability to do his job in the face of strong political and media criticism.

The embattled president on Saturday rejected offers from his Cabinet and aides to resign, saying he has responsibility for the performance of his government.

Mr. Roh has been beset by attacks from National Assembly members, bad press and poor public approval ratings. He also has had trouble in his own party, which has split over loyalties to the president and those of his popular predecessor Kim Dae-jung. The factional fighting recently caused the party to split and Mr. Roh resigned his party membership.

Analysts say dissatisfaction stems from a lack of consistency on major policy issues coupled with corruption scandals.

Several of Mr. Roh's close aides have been implicated in graft cases. The president is vowing to uncover the truth as part of his campaign to eradicate what he calls the "disease" of political corruption in South Korea.

South Korea also faces economic woes as it combats recession. And it has struggled to find common ground with allies, including the United States and Japan, about how to resolve the stalemate with Pyongyang over North Korea's nuclear arms program.