Secrets to Kim’s popularity

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Secrets to Kim’s popularity

The mourning altars for former President Kim Young-sam are closed, and he has left Korea. Six years after we lost former Presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung, we parted with yet another leader.

This departure seems a bit different from the previous ones. While stories about Kim include serious events like the hunger strike and house arrest, there are many episodes that make us laugh. In an editorial meeting for the JoongAng Ilbo, reporters and editors had a good laugh as the political news editor presented stories and ideas. It reminded me of the cheerful funeral described in director Im Gwon-taek’s 1996 film “Festival.”

Kim Young-sam may have been the least celebrated former president. Only three months ago, Gallup Korea asked which former president led the country best, and only 1 percent of the respondents chose Kim Young-sam, even fewer than Chun Doo Hwan, who got 3 percent. But when Kim passed away, people were reminded of the great accomplishments and legacy he left. He was most criticized for the financial crisis, but now people remember him for the financial system where real names need to be used in transactions. While he had been criticized for the corruption of those close to him, Kim left behind only his house in Sangdo-dong.

Like his political ups and downs, his approval rating fluctuated drastically. I searched the JoongAng Ilbo database, and in an opinion poll conducted about 100 days after his inauguration, his approval rating was 95.7 percent. Aside from North Korea, such a high rating is nearly impossible anywhere in the world. While Kim passed away with 1 percent support, it seems that 95.7 percent are mourning for him.

Not only the Sangdo-dong and Donggyo-dong factions but also conservative and liberal politicians paid their respects. The footage broadcast on JoongAng Ilbo Digital showed various figures, such as baseball player Park Chan-ho and Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin. Former President Chun Doo Hwan, who had received “the punishment of history” from Kim Young-sam, also signed the book. Former President Roh Tae-woo was not well, so his son, Jae-heon, visited on his behalf. If you took a photo of the mourning altar, it would be the picture of harmony.

For 17 years since leaving office, Kim had been an unpopular former president, but so many people feel his absence. I think he really worked to win the hearts of the people. Whenever reporters and politicians talk about Kim, they never fail to mention how warmly he treated them. A senior reporter who frequented Kim’s house recalled that whenever major party appointments were needed, Kim would lower his voice and ask, “Whom should I appoint?” Kim would not necessarily go with his recommendation, but he felt grateful to be asked his opinion. Other politicians said that when they dined together, Kim would often offer them what he liked the most. These trivial yet heartwarming memories have brought people together.

I would like to suggest that politicians and leaders try these two things - asking opinions and offering food - before they pass away.

The author is the digital news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26, Page 34

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