SEOUL Successful businessman, democracy activist, political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize laureate South Korean President Kim Dae-jung can add another title to his resume: afterthought.
South Korea’s most famous political figure has been virtually invisible in the high-volume presidential campaign to choose his successor in elections today.
Barred by law from running for a second five-year term and tarred by a succession of personal scandals and policy failures in recent years, Mr. Kim, 72, has made no campaign appearances, even though Roh Moo-hyun, the candidate for the president’s ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), is in a tight race with conservative challenger Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party.
Mr. Roh, who won the MDP nomination without any backing from the president, sounds at times like the opposition on the campaign trail.
“I want to ensure that those who are held responsible for the corruption and mismanagement of the current government will be held accountable,” Mr. Roh told a rally in the southern city of Pusan earlier this week.
The MDP logo is relegated to a tiny corner of Mr. Roh’s newspaper ads, and the candidate says he may change the party’s name entirely if he wins.
With Mr. Kim’s popularity in opinion surveys at around 20 percent, it is the GNP and Mr. Lee who have been most likely to bring up the president’s name and record.
A fixture in South Korean political life for decades, Mr. Kim’s presidency hit a high point when his “sunshine policy” of rapprochement with the North produced a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000 and a Nobel citation for Mr. Kim.
He also gets credit from economic analysts for engineering South Korea’s rebound from the sharp Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
But a new nuclear standoff with the North and a series of financial scandals touching Mr. Kim’s closest aides and even his sons have sent his popularity plummeting.
His aloof, distant leadership style also has led him to draw on just a tiny coterie of advisers, with no larger popular base on which to draw.