He was set to win this morning after establishing an unassailable lead over his nearest rival, Kim Dae Jung of the opposition Democratic Party.
With 93 per cent of all votes counted, Kim Young Sam had 42.1 per cent of the poll, while Kim Dae Jung's share of the vote was 33.9 per cent, according to the official election tally. The third main candidate, business magnate- turned-politician Chung Ju Yung, who had threatened to sap support from Kim Young Sam, did worse than expected, polling just 16.1 per cent of the vote in the preliminary results.
Almost 82 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote for South Korea's first non-military president in more than 30 years. Vote-counting was slowed by the adoption of traditional abacuses to calculate the returns, after allegations that the software of a computer counting system had been tampered with in the last presidential elections in 1987.
In a sign of how far South Korea's democracy has come since the end of military rule in 1987, the three-way race remained wide open until the very last day of campaigning, with no clear leader emerging from unofficial opinion polls.
In his five-year term, the new president will have to oversee a fundamental restructuring of the economy away from the old low- wage mass-export model. He is also likely to have to cope with the final collapse of North Korea's Communist system, with the economic, political and possibly military challenges that will bring.
The election came after 28 days of hectic campaigning across the country. The only substantive issue in the campaign was the slow- down in the economy and the role the new president should play in restoring it to health. But as the election drew closer, the candidates increasingly resorted to personal attacks on their opponents.
Kim Young Sam's campaign suffered a last-minute blow when it was revealed that government officials had plotted to boost his chances illegally in his home town of Pusan by, among other things, bribing journalists to write favourable articles about him. But he brushed off the ensuing scandal, disavowing personal responsibility and claiming it was a plot devised by his rivals to embarrass him.
The contest for the presidency had long been seen as the final showdown between Kim Young Sam, 65, and Kim Dae Jung, 67, who had both been life-long opponents to the military-controlled governments in South Korea until 1987. In that year they allowed their personal rivalry to boil over, with both running for the presidency against the military's candidate, Roh Tae Woo. They split the opposition vote, allowing Mr Roh to win the election.
In 1990, Kim Young Sam jumped the fence, joining President Roh's ruling DLP in what was seen as a manoeuvre to get the party's endorsement for the 1992 elections. Ever since he was elected to the National Assembly in 1954, his ambition has been to become president of South Korea. Until the emergence of Mr Chung in this year's campaign, Kim Young Sam had been expected to win the presidency easily.
Mr Chung's campaign, in which he promised rapid economic improvement to voters, at first made strong inroads into Kim Young Sam's support. However, Kim Young Sam, with the full weight of the ruling DLP behind him, repeatedly stressed the value of continuity to Koreans during a period of economic uncertainty.
On the eve of the vote as many as 30 per cent of the electorate had said they were undecided, and aides to Kim Young Sam had predicted that many of those last- minute doubters would play safe and vote for the ruling party's candidate.
View from Seoul, page 19