What president recently completed his first 100 days in office with an extraordinarily high popular rating, after making good on his campaign promises to carry out a number of major, near-revolutionary political changes? The answer is Kim Young Sam, South Korea's first truly civilian president in nearly three decades, a respected longtime dissident who now heads a sometimes uneasy ruling party coalition of old-line conservatives and determined reformers. President Clinton plans to meet with Kim in Seoul next month, providing a new opportunity to underscore the importance of U.S.-South Korea relations.
Kim's presidency signifies the institutionalization of Korean democracy after an almost uninterrupted post-World War II era of military-based or military-backed authoritarian regimes. He has wasted no time since taking office in attacking the old order. He brought the armed forces to heel and--he believes--foiled any chance of a future military coup by summarily discharging a dozen or more senior generals. He has launched a sweeping assault on official corruption, with scores of businessmen, politicians and former high officers targeted for investigation. This month the National Assembly enacted the Public Officials Ethics Law, which will require the top 7,000 civil servants and politicians to make public their personal financial affairs.