Kim Young-Sam Biography

President (non-U.S.) (1927–2015)
South Korean politician Kim Young-Sam was a moderate opposition leader for 30 years and was president of South Korea from 1993 to 1998.


Born in 1927, Kim Young-Sam was elected to South Korea's National Assembly in 1954. He was expelled from Parliament in 1979, and later spent three years under house arrest. Elected president in 1992, Kim enacted reforms to curb political corruption, though his popularity diminished with the economic problems that followed the Asian financial crisis in 1997. He died on November 22, 2015, at Seoul National University Hospital. 

Early Years and Political Career 

Kim Young-Sam was born on December 20, 1927, on Geoje Island, off the southeast coast of the Korean peninsula. The son of a wealthy fisherman, he went on to attend Seoul National University and worked for a Defense Ministry propaganda radio program during the Korean War. 

In 1954, the 26-year-old Kim became the youngest member of the National Assembly. Initially aligned with President Syngman Rhee's ruling party, he soon carved out a reputation as an opposition leader to the authoritarian regimes governing the country. 

Expulsion and Arrest 

Following an interview with The New York Times, in which he criticized President Park Chung-Hee, in 1979 Kim was expelled from Parliament. His dismissal set off a series of anti-government demonstrations, and all 66 opposition members of the National Assembly resigned in protest. 

Park was assassinated later that year, but a coup by General Chun Doo-Hwan led to a continuation of military rule, and Kim was placed under house arrest. He was finally granted his freedom in 1983, following a 23-day hunger strike. 

After resuming political activity in 1985, Kim unsuccessfully ran for president in 1987. Seeking more leverage, in 1990 he teamed with President Roh Tae-Woo to form the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). 

Presidential Term 

As the candidate of the military-backed DLP, Kim Young-Sam beat political rival Kim Dae-Jung in the 1992 national election to become South Korea's first civilian leader in more than three decades.  

Kim immediately set about enacting reforms designed to curb political corruption. He forced a group of powerful military officers known as the "Hanahoe" to disband and saw to the prosecution of his predecessors Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo for treason and bribery. He also made it illegal to own a bank account under a pseudonym, a practice commonly used by businessmen and politicians. 

Kim managed to avoid what could have been a costly war with North Korea. In 1994, American military officials were considering airstrikes on Yongbyon, which housed North Korea’s only known nuclear complex, until Kim dissuaded U.S. President Bill Clinton during a phone call. Kim was then set to meet with Kim Il-Sung in a summit arranged by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, though the North Korean leader died just before the scheduled date. 

Kim's popularity waned with the economic troubles brought by the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and he was forced to accept a $58 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Further troubles came when members of his administration, including his own son, were convicted for the sort of corruption he had sought to stamp out. Following the conclusion of his term in 1998, his rival Kim Dae-Jung took over as president. 

Failing Health 

Kim, who published his memoir in 2000, suffered a series of strokes in his later years. Shortly after being admitted to Seoul National University Hospital with a high fever, the former president died there from sepsis and heart failure on November 22, 2015. He was survived by his wife, Son Myung-Soon, and five children.

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