``Who do you think will be the next president?'' the silver-haired politician intoned from atop a high platform, confident of the answer. ``Kim Young Sam, Kim Young Sam,'' thundered back the voices of hundreds of thousands of people gathered on a dusty field on the seacoast at Pusan.
The man whose name was chanted rythmically for hours stood and smiled, his arms raised and fists clenched in a gesture of victory.
``I think this beautiful weather today is promising us a bright future and the victory of democracy in this country,'' South Korean opposition leader Kim Young Sam told the massive rally Saturday in his hometown, the kickoff for his campaign.
``The present government has done nothing but infringe upon human rights and bring about corruption during its seven-year reign,'' he declared as the cheering crowd waved a fluttering sea of paper Korean flags.
The December election, he said, is a choice between ``civilian government or a return to military rule.''
While Mr. Kim was working the hometown crowd, his opponents were also on the campaign trail.
Ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo spoke to a 20,000-strong gathering of the party youth organization in Taejon. Rival opposition leader Kim Dae Jung spoke to young businessmen in Seoul. Though Kim Young Sam's rhetoric in Pusan was mainly aimed at the military-backed regime, the political message was clearly intended for his opposition rival.
The ``two Kims,'' as the longtime opposition leaders are often called, are both running for president after failing to agree on a single opposition candidate.
Aides to Kim Young Sam made it clear they were determined to outstrip the outpouring of support which greeted Kim Dae Jung when he visited his home province of Cholla in September.
``We beat the [daylights] out of Kim Dae Jung,'' one aide crowed from atop the speakers' platform.
The Kim Young Sam camp claimed the crowd totaled more than 2 million while police estimates were 500,000. Korean newspapers generally agreed that nearly 1 million showed up on Saturday afternoon.
Kim Young Sam chose friendly territory for this impressive campaign kickoff. This industrial port in the southeast province of South Kyongsong is Korea's second largest city. It is the stronghold of Kim Young Sam's well-organized political machine.
In large part, says Pusan National Assemblyman Chung Jey Moon, his appeal is due to ``sectionalism.'' There is a powerful regional antagonism between the Kyongsong region and Kim Dae Jung's home area of Cholla.
``I like him because he is from Kyongsong,'' Bae Hak Sun, a middle-aged Pusan housewife simply summarized his appeal. Yet, she added, ``he's a very honest man and he works hard for democracy.''
In comparison with the emotion Kim Dae Jung generates, the Pusan crowd was enthusiastic but dispassionate.
Many of those at the rally cited the long experience of Kim Young Sam, who was first elected to the National Assembly at the age of 26 in the mid-1950s.
``He's been a politician for a long time,'' said small businessman Choi Wei Su, ``so if he becomes president he will do the job well.''
Kim Young Sam also benefits from his image as a moderate, compared to what opponents call Kim Dae Jung's ``extremism.''
``I had hoped to have unity of the party,'' says Assemblyman Chung, who had been neutral, ``but I have to chose between the two Kims. I want to see Kim Young Sam be our next president. He's more experienced in a moderate way.''
``It's not important who is smarter or more able,'' reflected a Pusan taxi driver. ``In a democracy, what is important is who can compromise more.''
The real lesson of the rally, Mr. Chung said, was not how many people showed up. More important, he said, it reflects the new open mood of political participation in Korea. ``This is part of the progress of democracy.''