SEOUL, South Korea -- South Koreans overwhelmingly adopted a new constitution paving the way for strongman President Chun Doo-hwan to seek to extend his rule until 1988, final returns showed today.
A formal announcement from the Central Election Management Committee said 17.8 million or 91.6 percent of the votes cast in the Wednesday plebiscite favored the new law providing for a seven-year single term presidency.
Under the previous constitution, Chun's tenure of office would have expired in 1984, but Chun has said he will seek re-elction in March under the new constitution, which provides a seven-year term that will run to 1988.
The announcement said 1.3 million persons or seven percent of the ballots cast opposed the new constitution and there were 266,899 invalid votes which accounted for 1.4 percent of the total.
At the same time, authorities officially confirmed that dissident leader Kim Dae-jung and 23 co-defendants will appear before a military appeals court Friday on their convictions on charges of seeking to topple the government through violence in riots last spring.
They formed the core of opposition to Chun, the former army general who grappled to power in a bloody military shakeup last Dec. 12 and then steadily consolidated his grip until winning an unchallenged presidential election Sept. 1.
Kim drew a death verdict at the first-round of his military court trial. His co-defendants were sentenced to two to 20 years in prison.
The voter turnout for the constitutional referendum was higher than any previous elections or referendum with 19.45 million people or 95.5 percent of the 20 million eligible voters braving chilly weather to vote.
The adoption of the new national charter, to be officially promulgated Monday, will kick off a number of changes. The existing one-house parliament and political parties will be automatically disbanded.
Political activity will be allowed to resume by mid-December, a presidential election will be held in March and parliamentary elections will be called late in April or May.