Kim Young-sam

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Ким Ён Сам
Politician, President
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Kim Young-sam (Hangul: 김영삼; hanja: 金泳三; Korean pronunciation: [kim jʌŋsʰam]; December 20, 1927 – November 21, 2015) was a South Korean politician and democratic activist, who served as the seventh President of South Korea from 1993 to 1998. From 1961, he spent almost 30 years as one of the leaders of the South Korean opposition, and one of the most powerful rivals to the authoritarian regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan.

Elected president in 1992, Kim became the first civilian to hold the office in over 30 years. He was inaugurated on February 25, 1993, and served a single five-year term, presiding over a massive anti-corruption campaign, the arrest of his two predecessors, and an internationalization policy called Segyehwa.

Early life and education

Kim was born in Geoje on December 20, 1927, during a time when Korea was under Imperial Japanese rule. He was the eldest of 1 son and 5 daughters in his family. During the Korean War, Kim graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Seoul National University, and also served in the South Korean military during the Korean War.

Political career

Early career

In 1954, Kim was elected to the National Assembly of South Korea and served nine terms representing districts in Geoje and Busan. Kim was the youngest ever to serve in the South Korean National Assembly. Kim resigned his National Assembly seat when Syngman Rhee attempted to amend the constitution of South Korea and became a leading critic, along with Kim Dae-jung, of the military governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. In 1974, he was elected as the president of the New Democratic Party, the youngest to be elected as one in Korean political history. Though he temporarily lost his power within the party in 1976, in 1979, the last year of Park Chung-hee's rule, Kim made a comeback to the New Democratic Party, which had won the 1978 election in voting counts but not in number of congressional seats, mainly because of the Yushin Constitution (1972) that guaranteed 1/3 of the National Assembly seats to be appointed by the President. Kim took the hardline policy of never compromising or cooperating with Park's Democratic Republican Party until the Yushin Constitution was repealed and boldly criticizing Park's dictatorship, which could be punished with imprisonment under the Yushin Constitution.

In August 1979, Kim allowed female workers at a wig company to use the headquarters of New Democratic Party as a place for their sit-in demonstration and pledged to protect them. Two thousand policemen raided the party headquarter and arrested the workers. In the process, one female worker died and many lawmakers trying to protect them were severely beaten, some requiring hospitalization. This garnered widespread criticism and led to Kim's condemnation that Park's murderous dictatorship would soon collapse in a wretched way. After this incident, Park was determined to remove Kim from the political scene like the imprisoned Kim Dae-joong and instructed the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) to engineer such a move. In September 1979, the court ordered the suspension of Kim's presidency of the New Democratic Party.

When Kim called on the United States to stop supporting Park's dictatorship in an interview with the New York Times, Park wanted to have Kim imprisoned while the Carter Administration, concerned over increasing violation of human rights, issued a strong warning not to persecute members of the opposition party. When Kim was expelled from the National Assembly in October 1979, the United States recalled its ambassador back to Washington, D.C., and all 66 lawmakers of the New Democratic Party resigned from the National Assembly.

When it became known that the South Korean government was planning to accept the resignations selectively, uprisings broke out in Kim's hometown Busan, during which 30 police stations were burned. It was the biggest demonstration since the Syngman Rhee presidency, and spread to nearby Masan and other cities, with students and citizens calling for an end to the dictatorship. The crisis was one of the causes for the assassination of Park Chung-hee in October 26, 1979 by KCIA Director Kim Jae-kyu, to whom Park told that he himself would give an order to fire upon demonstrators if the situation got worse.

The government's oppressive stance towards the opposition continued under Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power with a military coup on December 12, 1979. Kim Young-Sam was expelled from the National Assembly for his democratic activities and banned from politics from 1980 to 1985. In 1983, he undertook a 21-day hunger strike protesting the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan.

Failed presidential run

When the first democratic presidential election was held in 1987 after Chun's retirement, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung ran against each other, splitting the opposition vote and enabling ex-general Roh Tae-woo, Chun's hand-picked successor, to win the election. In 1990, he unexpectedly merged his Peaceful Democracy Party with Roh's ruling Democratic Justice Party to form the Democratic Liberal Party, now the Grand National Party.

Presidency (1993-1998)

As the candidate of the governing party, he defeated Kim Dae-jung in the 1992 presidential election. He was only the third civilian to hold the office, and the first since 1962. The Kim Young-sam administration attempted to reform the government and economy. One of the first acts of his government was to start an anti-corruption campaign, requiring government and military officials to publish their financial records, precipitating the resignation of several high-ranking officers and cabinet members. He had Chun and Roh arrested on charges of corruption and treason, winning convictions against both. Kim also granted amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, and removed the criminal convictions of pro-democracy protesters who had been arrested during the Gwangju massacre in the aftermath of the Coup d'état of December Twelfth.

The anti-corruption campaign was also part of an attempt to reform the chaebol, the large South Korean conglomerates which dominated the economy. However, the implication of corruption on the part of his second son, led to a loss of confidence; his new ministerial party, the DLP lost its narrow majority in the National Assembly in 1996. Kia Motors collapsed soon thereafter, setting off a chain of events which embroiled South Korea in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis during the last year of his presidency.

Life after the presidency

After his presidency, Kim travelled the world promoting democracy, and speaking at events such as "Towards a Global Forum on New Democracies" in Taiwan in January 2007.

Personal life

Kim was a member of the Chunghyun Presbyterian Church and was fluent in Japanese and his native Korean. He was married to Son Myung-soon. He is survived by his children, two sons and three daughters, as well as his five younger sisters. Kim died on 21 November 2015 in a hospital in Seoul from acute heart failure caused by a blood infection at the age of 87.


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