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Monday, 22 February, 1999, 08:55 GMT
Kim Dae Jung: A political profile
This was Kim Dae Jung's fourth attempt to become President

BBC Asia specialist Larry Jagan on the life and times of former dissident, Kim Dae Jung, now President of South Korea.


Kim Dae Jung set out his stall during last December's election camapign. He said he would extend democratic reform, stamp out corruption and curb the political power of the country's industrial conglomerates, known as the chaebols.

He said he would 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 veteran former dissident is now in his seventies. Conscious of this, in recent months, Mr Kim's advisors have gone to great pains to make him look younger and more sprightly - not least during the recent campaign.

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

Kim Dae-jung comes from South Korea's more backward Cholla region in the southwest of the country, near the city of Kwangju. This has been his long-time power base but his regional background is 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 entered into an electoral alliance with the small conservative party, the United Liberal Democrats, based in the southeast and led by Kim Jong Pil.

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

Long road to the Blue House

During his 40 years in politics Mr Kim 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 he taught himself English.

He has long championed the democratic cause and enjoyed the loyal support of the trade unionists and the militant students during his long political career.

Before he entered politics in 1954, Mr Kim was a successful businessman, running his own shipping business, something he frequently told his audiences throughout Seoul.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY

Jennifer Hardingham of East Asia Today profiles Kim Dae Jung (2'20")
Links to more Korean elections 97 stories are at the foot of the page.


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