Wednesday, December 17, 1997 Published at 18:54 GMT
Chaebols blamed for Korea's economic failure
Searching for explanations for Korea's economic misery
South Korea's giant conglomerates, the Chaebol, once seen as the bedrock of the country's economic success, are now seen as the source of its humiliating downfall.
Kim Dae Jung's message was simple: "I am asking them to support me to restore our economic strengths - even though it is very difficult, I am fully confident that we can solve our present difficulties, because if I can be cooperative with our people, they are patriotic and enthusiastic, so I can do my best efforts."
Supporters of Kim Dae Jung are convinced this can only happen after the political power of the country's industrial conglomerates -- the Chaebol -- is effectively challenged.
"I agree totally with the IMF package, and I hope that our citizens will take this fully and abide by it, and hopefully will take this chance to change a lot of the things that are not very good in our economy."
There is no doubt that following several high-profile corruption cases, involving two former presidents and several businessmen over the past year, the Chaebol's power has already been curtailed.
Greater access to the media during political campaigns has also reduced politicians' dependence on the Chaebol according to Steve Marvin, chief analyst with Sangyong Securities: "This presidential campaign has involved a number of open, direct television debates among the principal candidates. These debates were quite comprehensive and they were carried on all the major channels, which means that the candidates received extensive coverage without the need to have these giant rallies which in turn required huge funds to organise."
Major restructuring of the Chaebol will have to follow as part of the conditions of the IMF-bail out. The then finance minister Lim Chang Yeol told foreign reporters that there was no alternative: "Frankly speaking, turning to the outside for financial assistance has been a bitter pill for the proud people of Korea to swallow. However, these short-term pains and complications are the unavoidable price we must pay in order to pave the way for another economic take-off. We have come too far to turn back now."
But some analysts think this is going to be much harder than any of the politicians let on. The fear is that Korea could be entering a slump, similar to that experienced in Europe during the 1930's. If slow or negative growth persists for a number of years, the pressure on the country's social institutions is certain to grow.