Without democracy, South Korea can enjoy neither stability nor security in the long run, Kim Dae Jung believes. "Security can never be an end in itself." Mr. Kim said in a recent exclusive interview. "It is only a means to an end. Vietnam showed that unless you give people a reason for defending themselves, all the arms and all the aid in the world will not purchase their security. That reason, that goal, can only be democracy."
Mr. Kim's small parlor in his modest one- story residence overflows with visitors these days. Gone is the calendar on which he used to mark off the days and months of his house arrest. Gone are the gimlet-eyed police agents in the lane outside who used to turn away all would-be visitors (except, for limited periods, foreign journalists and diplomats).
His study is crammed with books in English, Japanese, and Korean. The tiny lapdog that kept him company during his house arrest is curled at his feet. Mr. Kim is expatiating on his favorite subject, the political maturity of the South Korean people, their readiness to enjoy democratic government.
"Except for a small minority," he says, "our people have shown great restraint since the Oct. 26 incident [the assassination of President Park]. The present stage is the stage of struggle between the forces of the people desiring democracy and the forces of those who wish to hang on to the privileges and benefits they enjoyed under the Yushin system [the authoritarian structure of government imposed by President Park since 1972]."
The democratic forces have won some victories, Mr. Kim said. Hiw own civil rights have been restored, as have those of many others jailed or restricted during the Park era.
But the Yushin forces are also strong. Martial law has not been lifted, and "freedom of speech and assembly are restricted more than necessary." The government has not come forward with a specific timetable for the transition to democratic rule Lt. Gen. Chon Doo Hwan, the military security commander, has assumed the additional post of acting director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
In the long run, however, Mr. Kim sayshe is confident the South Korean people have the maturity to win and to hold democracy. Of three potential presidential candidates, all surnamed Kim, Kim Dae Jung is considered by most observers to be the underdog. (The other two are Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition New Democrats, and Kim Jong Pil, president of the former ruling party, the Democratic Republicans.)
He has not returned to his former party, the new Democrats. He led them in the 1971 presidential election -- the last of three elections General Park fought under a democratic constitution.
He comes from Cholla, a province Koreans of other regions tend to dislike. General Park came from Kyongsam, as do Kim Young Sam and 80 percent of the generals in the South Korean Army.
He says he will not establish a separate political party. Even if he does, he probably lacks the time to build up any strong local organizations.
Yet he remains South Korea's most charismatic politician: An electrying orator, he is adept all at behind-the-scenes string-Pulling and seeks ideas from around the world.
A recent newspaper called him too radical to win widespread support. There is little question that General Chon and the martial law authorities consider him at least a socialist and a probably a crypto-communist.
Mr. Kim refutes these charges. "I am a moderate, a pragmatist," he says. "I am a Christian and have made Christianity the standard for all my actions. Above all, I Believe in nonviolence. At the same time, I never compromised with the Yushin system."
(Mr. Kim happened to be abroad when General Park proclaimed the Yushin system. He was kidnapped by KCIA agents from his hotel room in Japan, brought back to Seoul, then tried and jailed on a charge of violating one of the government's emergency decrees. After his release he was kept under house arrest for varying periods.)
"I am not a socialist," Mr. Kim continues. "I am for economic growth, but this must be accompanied by social justice and by fair distribution of benefits.
"I am for the reunification of Korea but only on the basis of a three-stage process: first, peaceful coexistence of North and South, then peaceful exchanges between North and South, and finally reunification."