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Thursday, December 18, 1997 Published at 16:16 GMT

Special Report

Kim Dae Jung: A political profile
image: [ This was Kim Dae Jung's fourth attempt to become President ]
This was Kim Dae Jung's fourth attempt to become President

BBC Asia specialist Larry Jagan reports from Seoul on the policies and programme of Kim Dae Jung, leader of the National Congress for New Politics.

Kim Dae Jung says he will extend democratic reform, stamp out corruption and curb the political power of the country's industrial conglomerates, known as the chaebols.

He says he will start meaningful talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il and help small businesses to develop as a means of regenerating the economy.

The oldest candidate in the elections by far, the veteran former dissident is now in his seventies. Conscious of this Mr Kim's advisors went to great pains during the campaign to make him looker younger and more spritely.

He has reportedly had his face massaged regularly and is heavily made up to look younger before television appearances.

The fact that he comes from South's Korea's more backward Cholla region in the southwest of the country, near the city of Kwangju, was also seen by some as a major handicap.

Most South Koreans regard people from this region as socially inferior - poor, uncouth and unruly.

Many respectable Korean families would be appalled if their daughter wished to marry a man from Cholla, and in the past this attitude has largely been reflected in their voting habits as well.

Aware of this handicap he has entered into an electoral alliance with the small conservative party, the United Liberal Democrats, based in the south-east and led by Kim Jong Pil.

This alliance also picked up the public support of the respected, entrepeneur Park Tae Jun, founder of Pohang Iron and Steel Company.

During his 40 years in politics he has survived several attempts on his life, one of which has left him with a permanent limp.

In 1980 a military court sentenced him to death on a charge of sedition but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and then reduced to 20 years in jail, during which time Mr Kim taught himself English. He has long championed the democratic cause and has enjoyed the loyal support of the trade unionists and the militant students during his long political career.

With South Korea facing its worse economic crisis ever, most analysts believe it is his economic policies which will come under closest scrutiny in the coming days.

Before he entered politics in 1954, Mr Kim was a successful businessman, running his own shipping business, something he has been increasingly telling his audiences throughout Seoul.

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