Roh Moo-Hyun

Article excerpt

President of South Korea whose period in office was riddled with problems

Born into a poor farming background in the south east of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun began studying law as a way to escape poverty. As it was, for a young man whose parents had been unable to pay for his schooling, it would introduce him to issues and causes that would forever change his life and ultimately project him towards the presidency.

In 1981, against the backdrop of mounting dissatisfaction with the country's authoritarian regime, the rising lawyer was asked to defend one of two dozen students who had been seized and detained for possessing banned literature. While they were held in custody, the students were tortured and their experience inspired Roh. "When I saw their horrified eyes and their missing toenails, my comfortable life as a lawyer came to an end," he later said.

Several years later, Roh emerged as one of the leaders of the 1987 "June struggle", an uprising against the dictatorship. When he was found guilty of abetting striking workers, he was jailed for three weeks. Thus blooded, the following year he finally entered politics, accepting an invitation from Kim Young-sam - the man who would later become South Korea's first civilian president - to join his Democratic Reunification Party. The same year he was elected as a member of the country's national assembly and, in a move that earned him his first public attention, took part in a parliamentary hearing which grilled the government over public corruption allegations.

During the 1990s, Roh switched back and forth between several parties and in 2000 he was appointed as the minister for maritime affairs and fisheries under Kim Dae-jung. It was his only real government experience before winning the presidential election of 2002. Using an internet and text-message strategy to target younger voters and campaigning as an anti-American, Roh secured victory over his rival Lee Hoi-chang by a slim margin.

When he came to office, Roh appeared to offer South Korea a new start. He was relatively youthful, independent and seemed ready to tackle the country's deeply embedded political corruption. In addition to promising not to "kowtow to the Americans" he also supported the "sunshine" policy of diplomatic approach towards North Korea. …