Uljongbu, South Korea
Opposition leader Kim Dae Jung brought his campaign for the presidency to this agro-industrial city recently, his words as crisp and biting as the autumn air. ``My party,'' he exclaimed, ``is the party of the workers, the farmers, and the middle class. Do you think it should come to power?''
``Yes!'' the crowd shouted back, waving little paper Korean flags and cheering. It was an outdoor rally, as colorful as a set for a kung fu movie, banners in yellow, green, and other hues with boldly brushed characters in Chinese or Korean fluttering in the breeze.
Listening to Mr. Kim's speech, and watching the ecstatic throngs surrounding his open-air truck as it inched its way along Uljongbu's main streets after the rally, one sensed the particular magic of this populist leader. He made people angry. He made them laugh. He made them cheer. And over and over again, the messsage: This is a contest between dictatorship and democracy, civilian rule and military.
There is obvious hyperbole in this kind of election speech, but government monopoly of television, in particular, is a sore point with all the opposition candidates - Kim Dae Jung, his rival Kim Young Sam, and the third Kim - former premier Kim Jong Pil (J.P.). The newspapers have been fairly even in their coverage of the campaign, but television, which is government-owned, bluntly favors ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo and gives little publicity to the other presidential hopefuls.
Kim's speeches regularly touch on a number of issues, and this one was no exception. The need for social justice, helping farmers and the working man. The neutrality of the armed forces. Equal opportunity for women. A neutral cabinet to run the election. Unification of North and South. And an appeal for his new party, the Peace and Democracy Party or PDP.
Under the rubric of social justice, Kim takes up a variety of topics, from greater help for disabled Korean war veterans to rehabilitation of petty offenders and housing loans for the needy.
Relief for farmers is a favorite theme, and his comments on the disastrously low price of cabbage draw approving nods from local folk.
Kim contrasts government loans to ``30 chaebol [conglomerates]'' amounting to 5 trillion won ($6.25 billion) with the indebtedness of farmers (who with their families constitute a quarter of South Korea's population) amounting to 3 to 4 trillion won.
A ruling party advocate might call the accusation unfair. Was it not ruling party candidate Roh who got President Chun Doo Hwan to reverse himself and accept direct popular elections for the presidency? Was it not Mr. Roh who prevailed on Mr. Chun to restore Kim Dae Jung's civil rights, thus making him eligible to run for the presidency? Has not Roh pledged to rule as a civilian, not as an ex-general, if elected, and to go quietly into opposition, if defeated?
In his speech, Kim gave Roh scant credit for these feats and pledges. Roh, he said, called himself ``an ordinary man'' who owned just one house. And what about these wristwatches and sets of ginseng tea that are said to be being given to potential government supporters? ``Oh yes, and sugar too,'' added Kim as the crowd laughed. ``You might think those who didn't accept these gifts are fools.'' But on second thought, he continued, these are just the leftovers of money the government got in taxes. The people who were satisfied just to take those leftovers are the real fools.
Roh controls the media, and television too, said Kim. The media frequently points out Kim Dae Jung's faults and shortcomings.
``Have you ever seen them point out Roh's faults or shortcomings?''
Again the crowd shouted, ``No!''
For the worker, Kim demands basic labor rights such as the eight-hour day, a minimum wage, and the right to strike. Five hundred labor union activists are in jail right now, he says.
``I urge President Chun to pay sincere attention to basic labor rights.''
Women are half the population, and giving them more scope in Korean society will double the strength of the Korean economy, Kim says.
The armed forces must be neutral and must not interfere in the political process, he continues. The police also. Torture of students and other innocents will not be tolerated. A neutral cabinet should be formed to oversee the election, for a fair election cannot be guaranteed by the present regime.
Reunification is a theme Kim has been cautioned against sounding for fear of playing into the hands of government and military critics who charge he is soft on communism, but he continues to bring it up regularly.
The process he advocates is a period of peaceful coexistence between North and South, peaceful exchanges between the two, and eventually reunification.
Finally, his new party, the Peace and Democracy Party. One purpose of his current stumping tours is to organize branches of the party throughout Korea. ``For 30 years,'' he concludes, ``I have fought against dictatorship and for democracy.'' He has been in prison and under sentence of death.
``I am you and you are me,'' he cries, as the crowd roars assent. ``If you all want freedom, justice, peace, and reunification, whether you sign up with the PDP or not, you are all members.''
It was a bravura performance. The sun was setting, the wind was cold, but many in the crowd walked or ran alongside the truck carrying Kim and his party as it bumped its way across the uneven field and onto the streets of Uljongbu. Kim, clad in traditional Korean garb, was showered with confetti.
The crowd chanted his name, then the Korean word for president. Someone started the haunting tune of the ``Unification Song,'' and soon cluster after cluster had picked it up. The upturned faces were shining, joyous - and mostly young.
Will Kim be elected, come mid-December?
``Personally, I very much hope so,'' said a Roman Catholic priest who counsels young workers. ``But the Korean middle class is quite conservative and wants stability almost above all else. With Kim Young Sam splitting the opposition vote and appealing to this element of the electorate, the result is still quite unpredictable.''