South Korea

True to ideals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2002, 12:00am


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South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is a staunch advocate of human rights, equal opportunities, democracy and free speech. Even with just seven months of his term remaining, he is living up to the ideals he has lived by.

Mr Kim's shake-up of his cabinet yesterdaythu was further proof of his commitment to those values. His appointment of the nation's first woman prime minister and six other apolitical ministers provides a non-partisan environment for presidential elections in December.

The constitution does not allow Mr Kim to stand for a second term and his term will not end as he would have wished. His much-vaunted 'sunshine policy' of rapprochement with North Korea is in near-tatters with only a remote chance of being revived. The latter half of his term has been mired in scandals which have engulfed two of his three sons. His attempts to please too many people too often has meant four prime ministers in five years and the office life-span of a minister averaging just 10 months.

Despite corporate collapses and economic and monetary turmoil, South Korea has turned the corner and is again posting solid growth. The storm has been weathered because of the economic strength of Mr Kim's government.

In South Korea's image-conscious political system, it would have been easy for Mr Kim to live off the glory of his 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, he has distanced himself from politics and increasingly appointed cabinets aligned to national interests rather than political parties.

His forward-looking choice of Prime Minister Chang Sang, an academic from outside the political sphere, veers from the common perception of Korea being male-dominated.

Mr Kim may now be seen by analysts as a lame-duck leader with few presidential achievements. But even in the last months of his leadership, the former dissident who helped establish South Korea's democracy is ensuring the best future possible for his people.