- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

SEOUL A reputation for incorruptibility earned him the nickname "Bamboo." But now the unbending Lee Hoi-chang must prove that honesty is the best politics.
The spare, disciplined former judge and anticorruption crusader fell just short in his first bid for the presidency five years ago, and, at 67, probably does not have another campaign in him. So it's now or never for the man who has headed South Korea's opposition Grand National Party since 1996.
Mr. Lee's tough line on North Korea has won him a number of friends in Washington, particularly in the Bush administration and in the conservative think tanks.
He has condemned President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" toward the North as too accommodating and vows to cut financial assistance to Pyongyang until it drops its nuclear ambitions.
But he does not back a complete break with the North and, if elected, says he would try to hold a summit with the North's Kim Jong-il.
Although now one of Korea's elder statesmen, Mr. Lee got an early start. Born into a professional family and raised in the southern part of the peninsula, Mr. Lee was a judge at age 25 and appointed to the Supreme Court at 46, the youngest justice to serve.
He promoted electoral and anticorruption efforts in the early 1990s, served briefly as prime minister under President Kim Young-sam, and moved into politics full time in 1996 when he became chief campaigner for the party that evolved into today's Grand National Party.
Mr. Lee's platform favors market-oriented, pro-business reforms, and he has mounted an effective opposition, driving down the popularity of President Kim Dae-jung and hammering away at the government's ethical problems.
But the uncharismatic judge has also tried to spruce up his image, particularly among young voters where he lags rival Roh Moo-hyun.
During the campaign, Mr. Lee has dyed his hair black and put in appearances at bars and fast-food restaurants in a bid to deflect questions about his age.


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