Kim Young Sam


Kim Young Sam
/kim yung sahm/, n.
born 1927, president of South Korea 1993-97.

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born Dec. 20, 1927, Kŏje Island [near Pusan], Korea

South Korean moderate opposition leader who served as president (1993–98) after his party merged with the ruling party.

First elected to South Korea's National Assembly in 1954, he served there until his expulsion in 1979 by Pres. Park Chung Hee, which touched off riots and demonstrations that preceded Park's assassination. After the military takeover by Gen. Chun Doo Hwan in 1980, Kim was put under house arrest until 1983. In 1990 he merged his party with the ruling Democratic Justice Party, a move that helped him win the presidency in 1992. He enacted reforms to end political corruption, and his term was one of rising prosperity for Korea until 1997, when Korea became caught up in an Asian financial crisis.

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▪ 1994

      When South Korean Pres. Kim Young Sam assumed office on Feb. 25, 1993, no one was quite prepared for the whirlwind of anticorruption activity that dominated his first year in office. Before the dust settled, 10 navy and air force generals suspected of buying their promotions had been discharged from service, and two former defense ministers had been arrested for taking bribes. Because of a new law, thousands of government officials were to declare their assets, which would then be open to scrutiny. Kim's most drastic anticorruption move was to order South Koreans to use their real names in all financial transactions. Previously it had been legal to use fictitious names. Such a situation had enabled political and business figures to hide an estimated $15 billion that could not be properly taxed and could be used for improper purposes. Kim's program of reforms, however, was pushed less vigorously when investigators probed defense contracts awarded during the administrations of former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo. The opposition Democratic Party (DP) also charged that there had been only a token investigation of Kim's own campaign finances and that the president was coddling the chaebol, huge business conglomerates with traditionally close government ties.

      Kim was born on Dec. 20, 1927, in the southeastern province of Kyongsang, Korea. At the time, Korea was under Japanese occupation. Kim graduated from Seoul National University and served in the armed forces during the Korean War. He was elected to the National Assembly for the first of nine terms in 1954, but he resigned in protest when Pres. Syngman Rhee tried to alter the constitution. Kim also opposed the repressive administration of Pres. Park Chung Hee and was expelled from the National Assembly. He was banned from politics in 1980 because he would not moderate his relentless criticism of the government. Seven years later, with the ban removed, Kim became an unsuccessful candidate for president. Roh Tae Woo won the 1987 race with just under 36% of the popular vote, largely because Kim Young Sam and another leading dissident, Kim Dae Jung, could not agree on which of them should be the opposition candidate. Together they captured 54% of the vote—to no avail. In 1990 Kim startled political pundits by merging his political organization with that of Roh to form the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). As the DLP's 1992 presidential candidate, Kim was swept into office with a substantial plurality.

      Kim quickly set the tone of his administration by launching an anticorruption campaign and by granting amnesty to some 41,000 prisoners, including labour activists and pro-democracy demonstrators, and by wiping out the criminal records of those arrested in pro-democracy demonstrations in Kwangju in 1980. But the most serious problem by far that Kim was facing came from North Korea, where a hostile and dangerously unpredictable leader seemed determined to develop weapons of mass destruction at a time when worldwide efforts were being made to destroy existing arsenals. (JOHN LITWEILER)

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▪ president of South Korea
born December 20, 1927, Kŏje Island, off Pusan, Korea [now in South Korea]

      South Korean politician, moderate opposition leader, and president from 1993 to 1998.

      Kim graduated from Seoul National University in 1952 and was first elected to the National Assembly in 1954. A centrist liberal, he was successively reelected until 1979, when he was expelled from the assembly for his opposition to President Park Chung Hee. His expulsion, on October 9, touched off the riots and demonstrations that preceded Park's assassination on October 26. To protest Kim's dismissal, all 66 opposition members of the assembly resigned. After Park's death, it was assumed that Kim Young Sam would be a contender in the presidential election. But General Chun Doo Hwan's takeover in May 1980 precluded this possibility. First put under house arrest by Chun (May 1980), Kim was also banned from political activity for eight years in November 1980. His party was also banned.

      Kim's house arrest was lifted in June 1983, and he resumed his political activity in 1985. That year he reasserted his leadership of the moderate opposition to President Chun. Kim ran unsuccessfully for the South Korean presidency in 1987, splitting the antigovernment vote with the rival opposition leader and presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung. In 1990 Kim Young Sam merged his Reunification Democratic Party with the ruling Democratic Justice Party led by President Roh Tae Woo, thus forming a centre-right party that dominated Korean politics. As the candidate of this ruling Democratic Liberal Party, Kim won election to the presidency in December 1992, defeating Kim Dae Jung and another opposition candidate.

      Once in power, Kim established firm civilian control over the military and tried to make the government more responsive to the electorate. He launched reforms designed to eliminate political corruption and abuses of power, and he even allowed two of his presidential predecessors, Roh Tae Woo and Chun Doo Hwan, to be prosecuted for (and convicted of) various crimes committed while in power. The South Korean economy continued to grow at a rapid rate during Kim's presidency, and, with wages rising rapidly, the standard of living reached that of other industrialized nations.

      Kim was constitutionally barred from seeking a second term as president. His popularity declined rapidly in the last year of his five-year term because of corruption scandals in his administration and the increasingly precarious state of the South Korean economy, which was caught in the financial crisis sweeping through Southeast and East Asia in late 1997. He was succeeded as president by the longtime opposition leader Kim Dae Jung.

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Universalium. 2010.

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