- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

Chung Mong-joon, the man behind South Korea's successful World Cup soccer bid, has risen to top the polls in his still undeclared bid to run for president on an independent ticket in his nation's December election.
Mr. Chung was running second behind Lee Hoi-chang of the conservative Grand National Party when he hinted broadly at his presidential aspirations at a Heritage Foundation luncheon during a Washington visit early this month.
Since then, he has moved to the front in mock races with candidates of the country's two established political parties, riding a wave of good feeling created by the largely glitch-free World Cup tournament and the surprising success of the South Korean team, which reached the semifinals in the best showing by an Asian squad in tournament history.
The telegenic 51-year-old soccer czar, who is also the sixth son of the founder of the Hyundai conglomerate and the leading shareholder in the country's largest shipbuilding concern, has said he would not decide on a presidential run until next month.
But he told reporters in Seoul on Friday that he had talks with Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee, and Rhee In-je, a failed candidate for the nomination of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, about forming an independent party.
"If we are going to do it, we should do it together," he said. "I am thinking of running as a candidate to reform politics and change the campaign mood, even if I don't get elected."
In Washington, he sounded even more like a candidate, saying, "Whoever becomes the next president of Korea, myself included, I hope that we could break this vicious cycle" in which a succession of presidents ended their terms badly.
President Kim Dae-jung cannot run for re-election by law and his party is in disarray, having just given up control in parliament after losing 11 of 13 by-elections on Aug. 8 to the Grand National Party.
Millennium candidate Roh Moo-hyun, a human rights lawyer, has sagged in the polls with his party wracked by scandals. Several Millennium officials openly tried to draft Mr. Chung to replace Mr. Roh at the top of the ticket.
Scandals also have hampered the presidential bid of Mr. Lee, the Grand National Party candidate, who lost narrowly to Mr. Kim in 1997 and has been critical of the fast pace of the president's rapprochement with North Korea. Mr. Lee has dismissed Mr. Chung's surge in the polls as a "bubble."
Although he holds a seat in the Korean parliament, Mr. Chung has positioned himself as a businessman and anti-politician with a record of getting things accomplished. South Korean political analysts say his support is broad but not deep and will be tested during the next four months in the rough and tumble of South Korean politics.
Mr. Chung hails from one of Korea's most prominent families and has earned advanced degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

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