Kim Young Sam thinks the South Korean opposition has the government running scared, and that the realization of democracy in South Korea is now within sight. Speaking in an interview Sunday, on the sixth anniversary of a violent uprising in the city of Kwangju, the opposition leader predicted that the government of President Chun Doo Hwan would soon be forced to give in to opposition demands for democratic reform.
``If this government does not revise the Constitution,'' Mr. Kim says, ``it will have no way to continue governing the country.''
The Kwangju anniversary was marked by scattered protests in Seoul and Kwangju. Over 200 protesters, were detained in Kwangju. A group of students there broke up the opposition party's memorial service. The opposition claims the disruption was orchestrated by the government but the government denies this accusation.
In his home here, Mr. Kim said he was tired but jubilant from a hectic schedule of meetings and public speaking engagements. Until a little over a year ago, Kim was banned from all political activities in South Korea.
In addition to the Kwangju uprising, yesterday marked the third anniversary of the start of a hunger strike that brought Kim close to death. One year later, Kim joined with forces his sometime archrival, dissident Kim Dae Jung, to form an umbrella group for the opposition. Since then, the two have worked closely together.
Kim Young Sam has emerged prominently this year as a powerful speaker and key organizer of a series of opposition rallies to revise the Constitution. He has come into his own with a broad public platform and has grown noticeably more confident and outspoken.
``At the end of last year,'' Kim said, ``the government refused to consider revision of the Constitution. We started our signature campaign to revise the Constitution on Feb. 12. Then on Feb. 24 the President said he would revise the Constitution in 1989. On April 29 he conceded that it could be revised earlier. This shows what our rallies have achieved.''
The ``two Kims'' -- they are not related -- continue to lead the opposition movement. Although they have maintained their alliance, they differ in political outlook. Kim Dae Jung admits to charges that he is more inflexible. He says the government will use piecemeal compromises for its own propaganda advantage. The opposition, he argues, should push very hard until the government offers meangingful change.
Kim Dae Jung is still legally barred from all political activities in South Korea under the terms of a suspended sentence for sedition. Police have forcibly prevented him from attending any of the mass rallies in recent months. This has isolated him from much of the mainstream political activities and raised questions about his continued leadership of the opposition. Despite these questions, he remains a powerful figure.
His charisma has attracted a fiercely loyal following. Kim Dae Jung is not optimistic that the government will offer meaningful compromises over amending the Constitution, and says the opposition should boycott the next presidential election and take protests to the streets if the election is not held under a system of direct voting.
Kim Young Sam, by contrast, emphasizes how far the opposition has come in a short time, and is confident the government can do nothing to reverse this trend.
South Korea's National Assembly is expected to convene in a special session next month to take up the question of constitutional amendment. Kim Young Sam says the opposition should go into the National Assembly and negotiate, but it should not give up its strategy of pressuring the government through popular campaigns, including the mass rallies.
The popular campaigns will succeed, Kim Young Sam says, if they continue to be peaceful and moderate. That strategy has been jeopardized lately by the emergence of radical student groups opposed to the moderate opposition. However both Kims say that the students have agreed not to take further action that could embarrass the opposition party.