Kim Jong-pil, Two-Time South Korean Prime Minister and Political Kingmaker, Dies at 92

Kim Jong-pil, pictured in 1997, was one of the so-called Three Kims who dominated South Korean politics for decades. The other two were presidents, both of whom he helped bring to power.
Yun Suk-bong/Reuters

Kim Jong-pil, a two-time South Korean prime minister who helped engineer a military coup, founded the country’s intelligence agency and facilitated the rise of three presidents, but who never managed to win the presidency himself, died on Saturday in Seoul, the capital. He was 92.

Mr. Kim’s death was announced by his family and by the South Korean government. He had been taken to Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital in Seoul early Saturday after having difficulty breathing, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

The cause of death was not revealed, except to say that Mr. Kim had been suffering from complications of old age.

Mr. Kim was the last of the “Three Kims,” as they were universally known in South Korea. The trio — including two presidents, Kim Young-sam, who died in 2015; and Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009 — dominated national politics for decades, notably during the country’s turbulent transformation from military dictatorship to vibrant democracy.

A suave, witty deal maker, Kim Jong-pil stood out from the other two Kims, both of whom were known for being fiery and headstrong. He was the original kingmaker in South Korea’s fractured, regionally based political system, in which parties were dispersed and realigned at their leaders’ whims.

He also had little in common ideologically or in political background with the other two Kims, both of whom were dissidents during military rule. To become president, each had to form an alliance with Mr. Kim, who decades earlier had played a central role in bringing the generals to power.

Mr. Kim was elected to Parliament nine times, a record. He helped to create, and led, four political parties. He was prime minister, the second-highest position in the government, from 1971 to 1975. Twenty-three years later, in 1998, he assumed the post again, becoming the first person to hold the job twice.

But the presidency always eluded Mr. Kim, who was widely known as “the perpetual No. 2.”

“I don’t even step on the shadow of the president,” he once quipped, a remark that both encapsulated his runner-up status and helped explain his political longevity.

Kim Jong-pil was born in 1926 in Buyeo, a town in the central region of Chungcheong. He was the fifth of seven children, all boys; their father was a scholar in Chinese philosophy and a low-ranking government official.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-Hun

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