Kim Young-sam

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Kim Young-sam
Official portrait, 1993
7th President of South Korea
In office
25 February 1993 – 24 February 1998
Prime MinisterHwang In-sung
Lee Hoi-chang
Lee Yung-dug
Lee Hong-koo
Lee Soo-sung
Goh Kun
Preceded byRoh Tae-woo
Succeeded byKim Dae-jung
President of the New Korea Party
In office
28 August 1992 – 30 September 1997
Preceded byRoh Tae-woo
Succeeded byLee Hoi-chang
President of the Reunification Democratic Party
In office
12 May 1988 – 22 January 1990
Preceded byKim Myung-yoon
Succeeded byOffice abolished
(party merger into DLP)
In office
1 May 1987 – 8 February 1988
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byKim Myung-yoon
President of the New Democratic Party
In office
7 June 1979 – 27 October 1980
Preceded byLee Chul-seung
Succeeded byOffice abolished
(party dissolution)
In office
21 August 1974 – 21 September 1976
Preceded byKim Eui-taek
Succeeded byLee Chul-seung
Member of the National Assembly
In office
30 May 1992 – 13 October 1992
ConstituencyProportional Representation
In office
30 May 1988 – 29 May 1992
ConstituencySeo (Busan)
In office
29 July 1960 – 4 October 1979 (expelled)
ConstituencySeo (Busan)
In office
31 May 1954 – 30 May 1958
ConstituencyGeoje (South Gyeongsang)
Personal details
Born(1927-12-20)20 December 1927
Geoje, Geojedo, South Gyeongsang Province, Korea, Empire of Japan
Died22 November 2015(2015-11-22) (aged 86)
Seoul, South Korea
Resting placeSeoul National Cemetery
Political party
See list
(m. 1951)
Alma materSeoul National University (BA)
ReligionPresbyterianism (GAPCK)
Military service
Allegiance South Korea
Branch/service Republic of Korea Army
RankStudent officer
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGim Yeongsam
McCune–ReischauerKim Yŏngsam
Art name
Revised RomanizationGeosan

Kim Young-sam (Korean김영삼; Hanja金泳三; Korean pronunciation: [ki.mjʌŋ.sam] or [kim] [jʌŋ.sam]; 20 December 1927 – 22 November 2015), often referred to by his initials YS, was a South Korean politician and activist who served as the 7th (14th election) president of South Korea from 1993 to 1998.

From 1961, he spent almost 30 years as one of the leaders of the South Korean opposition, and one of the most powerful rivals to the authoritarian regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. Elected as president in the 1992 presidential election, Kim became the first civilian to hold the office in over 30 years. He was inaugurated on 25 February 1993, and served a single five-year term, presiding over a massive anti-corruption campaign, the arrest of his two predecessors, and an internationalization policy called Segyehwa.

At the final years of his presidency, Kim had been widely blamed for the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge and the Sampoong Department Store and the downturn and recession of the South Korean economy during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which forced South Korea to accept tens of billions of dollars in unpopular conditional loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This caused him to have one of the lowest approval ratings of any incumbent president in the history of South Korea at 6%, until Park Geun-hye surpassed Kim at 1–3% during the political scandal in 2016. After his death, however, he has seen a moderately positive reevaluation.

Early life and education[edit]

Marriage of Kim Young-sam and Son Myung-soon (1951)

Kim was born on 14 January 1929 in Geoje Island, Korea, Empire of Japan. He was born into a rich fishing family.[1] He was the eldest of one son and five daughters in his family.[2] During the Korean War, Kim joined ROK Army as a student soldier, then he served in the ROK Army as an officer of the Department of troop information and education.[3] In 1952, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Seoul National University.[4]

Early political career[edit]

In 1954, Kim was elected to the National Assembly of South Korea, as a member of the party led by Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea.[1] At the time of his election, Kim was the youngest member of the national assembly.[5] A few months after his electoral victory, Kim left his party and joined the opposition when Rhee attempted to amend the constitution of South Korea.[1] Kim then became a leading critic, along with Kim Dae-jung, of the military governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan.

In 1969, Kim fiercely opposed the constitutional revision to allow President Park to serve for three consecutive terms. Kim later opposed President Park's power grab with the authoritarian Yushin Constitution of 1972.[6]

In 1971, Kim made his first attempt to run for president against Park as candidate for the opposition New Democratic Party, but Kim Dae-jung was selected as the candidate.

New Democratic Party leader[edit]

President Park Chung-hee and Kim Young-sam in May 1975

In 1974, he was elected as the president of the New Democratic Party. While he temporarily lost his power within the national assembly in 1976, Kim made a political comeback during the final year of Park Chung-hee's rule. Kim took a hardline policy of never compromising or cooperating with Park's Democratic Republican Party until the Yushin Constitution was repealed and boldly criticized Park's dictatorship, which could be punished with imprisonment under the new constitution.[7]

In August 1979, Kim allowed around 200 female workers at the Y.H. Trading Company to use the headquarters of New Democratic Party as a place for their sit-in demonstration and pledged to protect them. One thousand policemen raided the party headquarters and arrested the workers.[8] One female worker died in the process and many lawmakers trying to protect them were severely beaten, some requiring hospitalization. The YH Incident garnered widespread criticism and led to Kim's condemnation, with an assertion that Park's dictatorship would soon collapse.[9] After this incident, Park was determined to remove Kim from the political scene, like the imprisoned Kim Dae-jung, and instructed the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) to engineer such a move. In September 1979, a court order suspended Kim's presidency of the New Democratic Party.[10][11]

When Kim called on the United States to stop supporting Park's dictatorship in an interview with the New York Times,[10][12] Park wanted to have Kim imprisoned while the Carter Administration, concerned over increasing human right violations, issued a strong warning not to persecute members of the opposition party. Kim was expelled from the National Assembly in October 1979, and the United States recalled its ambassador back to Washington, D.C.,[9] and all 66 lawmakers of the New Democratic Party resigned from the National Assembly.[12]

When it became known that the South Korean government was planning to accept the resignations selectively, uprisings broke out in Kim's hometown of Busan. It was the biggest demonstration since the Syngman Rhee presidency, and spread to nearby Masan and other cities, with students and citizens calling for an end to the dictatorship.[9] The Bu-Ma Democratic Protests caused a crisis, and amidst this chaos Park Chung-hee was assassinated on 26 October 1979 by KCIA Director Kim Jae-gyu.[10]

House arrest[edit]

The government's oppressive stance towards the opposition continued under Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power with a military coup on 12 December 1979. Kim Young-Sam was expelled from the National Assembly for his democratic activities and banned from politics from 1980 to 1985. In May 1983, he undertook a 21-day hunger strike protesting the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan.[13]

Failed presidential run: 1987[edit]

When the first democratic presidential election was held in 1987 after Chun's retirement, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung ran against each other, splitting the opposition vote and enabling ex-general Roh Tae-woo, Chun's hand-picked successor, to win the election. This was also despite support from the first female presidential candidate, Hong Sook-ja, who resigned her candidacy in order to support Kim.[14]

Merged with the ruling party: 1990-92[edit]

On January 22, 1990, he merged his Democratic Reunification Party with Roh's ruling Democratic Justice Party to form the Democratic Liberal Party.[7] Kim's decision angered many democratic activists who considered him a traitor but he maintained his political base in Busan and Gyeongsang. Kim chose to merge with Roh's ruling party in order to become Roh's successor in 1992, which he became the presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party.

Presidency (1993–98)[edit]

As the candidate of the governing party,[1] he defeated Kim Dae-jung and businessman Chung Ju-yung, the boss of the chaebol group Hyundai in the 1992 presidential election. He was the first civilian elected to a full term since 1960.


The Kim Young-sam administration attempted to reform the government and the economy. One of the first acts of his government was to start an anti-corruption campaign, which began at the very top, as Kim promised not to use political slush funds.[1] The anti-corruption campaign was also part of an attempt to reform the chaebols, the large South Korean conglomerates which dominated the economy.

Kim's government required government and military officials to publish their financial records and introduced the “real-name” financial transaction system across the country,[13] which made it difficult to open bank accounts under false names, precipitating the resignation of several high-ranking officers and cabinet members. This also made it difficult for chaebols to seek government favours by remitting money to politicians and officials under false and anonymous names, drastically curbing such practices.[15] He had his two predecessors as president, Chun and Roh, arrested and indicted on charges of corruption and treason for their role in military coups, although they would be pardoned near the end of his term on advice of president-elect Kim Dae-jung.[1] Kim did not stop there, his administration pursued chaebol bosses who paid these bribes to Chun and Roh, most prominently Lee Kun-hee of Samsung and Kim Woo-choong of Daewoo were prosecuted, although Lee's sentence was suspended and Kim did not serve his sentence.

Kim also purged politically minded generals of the Hanahoe clique to which Chun and Roh belonged; until that point, the clique had continued to be deeply engaged in policymaking. Thus, Hanahoe was disbanded and the depoliticization of the military began under Kim.[13]

Kim also granted amnesty to 41,000 political prisoners in March 1993 just after taking office,[16] and removed the criminal convictions of pro-democracy protesters who had been arrested during the Gwangju massacre in the aftermath of the Coup d'état of December Twelfth.[15]

However, Kim's anti-corruption message was damaged after his son was arrested for bribery and tax evasion related to the Hanbo scandal.[1]


Kim was critical of the influence of chaebols on Korean society in the early 1990s, but was a firm believer in deregulation that heavily empowered "small[-] and medium-sized firms."[17] During his administration, Kim viewed chaebols that monopolized importing certain resources or products and/or predominated certain markets they were "large enterprises" in as outdated parts of the era before his presidency and empowered by lax policies from the prior governments.[17]

In addition to curbing corrupt practices of the chaebols, Kim encouraged them to become leaner and more competitive to succeed in the global economy, in contrast to the state-directed economic growth model of the preceding decades. Chaebols were criticized at that time for inefficiency and a lack of specialization.[18] Kim released his "100-Day Plan for the New Economy" for immediate economic reform, intended to decrease inflation and eliminate corporate corruption. Another Five-Year Plan was also implemented, to encourage foreign investment as part of Kim's internationalization and economic liberalism strategy. By 1996, per capita GNP exceeded US$10,000.[19]

North Korea[edit]

In 1994, when American president Bill Clinton mulled over attacking Nyongbyon, the centre of North Korea's nuclear program, Kim advised him to back down, fearing a war. A US aircraft carrier and a cruiser had been deployed near South Korea’s east coast in preparation for a possible airstrike, and the United States planned to evacuate Americans, including US troops and their families, Kim said in a memoir. Kim understood that South Korean cities would be bombarded first by North Korea in the event of a strike and saw it necessary to stop any move that could start a war.[1]


Kim took an upfront and straightforward attitude in his diplomacy toward Japan, with his quote “We will teach them to have manners once and for all,” referring to Japanese politicians who defended Japan’s wartime atrocities from annexation to the end of World War II.[20]

Kim's government undersaw the highly public demolition of the colonial-era General Government Building in 1996.

1997 IMF Crisis[edit]

Kim spent his final year in office, with the nation saddled and plagued by an economic crisis.

By 1996 and 1997, the banking sector was burdened with non-performing loans as its large chaebols were funding aggressive expansions. During that time, there was a haste by chaebols to compete and expand on the world stage, and Kim's 1993 financial reforms which allowed for the growth of merchant banks and short term loans fuelled increased borrowing by these companies. Many businesses ultimately failed to ensure returns and profitability. The chaebols continued to absorb more and more capital investment. Eventually, excess debt led to major failures and takeovers. The Hanbo scandal which involved Kim's son in early 1997 exposed South Korea's economic weaknesses and corruption problems to the international financial community. Hanbo was the first to declare bankruptcy in January 1997, sparking a domino effect.[21][22] Kim's government was seen as indecisive in the face of crisis as the financial tsunami began. The next big chaebol to go, was in July 1997 when South Korea's third-largest car maker, Kia Motors, asked for emergency loans. The Kim government refused to bail them out on Kia's terms, and nationalized it in October 1997.[23] The domino effect of collapsing large South Korean companies drove interest rates up and international investors away.[24][15]

In the wake of the Asian market downturn, Moody's lowered the credit rating of South Korea from A1 to A3, on 28 November 1997, and downgraded again to B2 on 11 December. That contributed to a further decline in South Korean shares since stock markets were already bearish in November. The Seoul stock exchange fell by 4% on 7 November 1997. On 8 November, it plunged by 7%, its biggest one-day drop to that date. And on 24 November, stocks fell a further 7.2% on fears that the IMF would demand tough reforms. Other prominent chaebols were affected: Samsung Motors' $5 billion venture was dissolved due to the crisis, and eventually Daewoo Motors was sold to the American company General Motors (GM).

On 22 November 1997, Kim in a televised address to the nation, apologised and called for the nation to tighten its belts. He blamed companies for borrowing too much, workers for demanding too much pay and conceded that his government did not implement strong reforms on its own due to pressure from special interest groups.[25] As a result, Kim became the most unpopular president in history with an approval rating of 6%, until Park Geun-hye broke this record with a 5% rating in 2016 before her impeachment.[26] This is until she reached a record low of 1 to 3%.

On 3 December 1997, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to provide US$58.4 billion as a bailout package.[27] In return, Korea was required to take restructuring measures.[28] In addition, the Korean government started financial sector reform program. Under the program, 787 insolvent financial institutions were closed or merged by June 2003.[29]

The South Korean won, meanwhile, weakened to more than 1,700 per U.S. dollar from around 800, but later managed to recover. However, like the chaebol, South Korea's government under Kim did not escape unscathed. Its national debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled (approximately 13% to 30%) as a result of the crisis.

Later life and post-presidency (1998-2015)[edit]

Kim (left) with President of Taiwan Chen Shui-bian (2008)

Kim could not run for re-election under provisions of the constitution of the ROK, limits the presidential tenure to a single and consecutive five-year. His term ended on 24 February 1998, and he was succeeded by his political rival Kim Dae-jung who defeated the ruling conservative party in the 1997 South Korean presidential election. This marked the first peaceful transition of power from one president to another from an opposition party in South Korea's history.

From April 2002 to 2007, he dedicated himself to research, taking up a position as a Distinguished Professor at Waseda University where he had previously (1994) received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.[30]

After his presidency, Kim traveled the world promoting democracy, and speaking at events such as Towards a Global Forum on New Democracies in Taiwan in January 2007.[31] After retiring, President Kim Young-sam spent his later years at his private residence in Sangdo-dong.


He died in Seoul National University Hospital on 22 November 2015, from heart failure, at the age of 87.[1][4][32] He was survived by his children, two sons and three daughters, as well as his five younger sisters.[31]

Kim's grave in the Seoul National Cemetery (2023)

On 26 November 2015, a televised state funeral was held for Kim at the National Assembly lawn, during which Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn delivered the opening remarks.[32] Later that day, Kim was buried in the Seoul National Cemetery near former presidents Syngman Rhee, Park Chung-hee and Kim Dae-jung.[32]


In the aftermath of the 1997 IMF crisis, Kim suffered from low approval ratings for many years. However, following his death, public interest in his achievements during the democratization movement as well as his presidency grew, and he began to be reevaluated in the media. In a contemporary public survey of past presidents from Gallup Korea, the percentage of those responding that Kim "did many good things" jumped from 16% in 2015 to 40% in 2023, and those saying that he "did many wrong things" fell from 42% to 30% over the same time period. This narrowly placed him among the few past presidents whose positive ratings exceeded negative ratings (the others being Park Chung-hee, Kim Dae-jung, and Roh Moo-hyun). Kim also differed from the more ideologically polarized ratings of other presidents by showing a remarkably similar evaluation between supporters of the two major parties, as well as between self-described conservatives, moderates, and progressives.[33]

Similarly, in contrast to the years following his presidency, when Kim was seen as something of an embarrassment for many on the right, he is now seen as a figure that expands the democratic credentials of the mainstream conservative parties.[34] In November 2017, then-Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo hung a portrait of Kim in the party headquarters alongside the two traditional conservative icons of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, and the portraits have been inherited by the People Power Party in 2023.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Kim was a member of the Chunghyun Presbyterian Church and was fluent in Japanese in addition to his native language, Korean. He was married to Son Myung-soon.[36] He had six children: Kim Hye-young (daughter, born 1952), Kim Hye-jeong (daughter, born 1954), Kim Eun-chul (son, born 1956), Kim Hyun-chul (son, born 1959), Kim Sang-man (extramarital son, born 1959), and Kim Hye-sook (daughter, born 1961).

When he was in office, his public speeches were the subject of much scrutiny and his pronunciation of Gyeongsang dialect elicited both criticism and amusement. He once mistakenly pronounced '경제 (Gyeongje, 經濟: meaning 'economy')' as '갱제 (Gaengje: a Gyeongsang pronunciation of the older generation for '경제')' and '외무부 장관 (oemubu-janggwan, 外務部長官: meaning 'foreign minister')' as '애무부 장관 (aemubu-janggwan, 愛撫部長官: meaning 'making out minister')'. A humorous anecdote arose from another of his public speeches where audiences were said to have been surprised to hear that he would make Jeju a world-class 'rape' (관광, 觀光 [gwan gwang, tourism] > 강간, 強姦 [gang-gan, rape]) city by building up an 'adultery' (관통하는, 貫通- [gwantonghaneun, going-through]) > 간통하는, 姦通- [gantonghaneun, adulterous]) motorway.[37]


National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kim, Hyung-Jin (23 November 2015). "Kim Young Sam: South Korean president ended years of military rule". The Globe and Mail. Bloomberg News. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  2. ^ "Kim Young Sam Facts". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  3. ^ 김영삼 대통령의 군 복무 사진 첫 공개
  4. ^ a b "Hospital Official: Ex-SKorean President Kim Young-Sam Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  5. ^ "Former South Korean President Kim Young-Sam Dies at 87". ABC News. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Kim remembered as democracy fighter, economic reformer". 22 November 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2021.
  7. ^ a b Breen, Michael (19 October 2011). "Kim Young-sam: the man who would be president". The Korea Times. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  8. ^ Lee, Kenneth B. (1997). Korea and East Asia: The Story of a Phoenix. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 196. ISBN 027595823X.
  9. ^ a b c Fowler, James (June 1999). "The United States and South Korean Democratization" (PDF). Political Science Quarterly. 114 (2): 265–288. doi:10.2307/2657739. JSTOR 2657739. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 October 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
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  11. ^ Vogel, Ezra F.; Kim, Byung-Kook (2011). The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0674058200.
  12. ^ a b Seth, Michael J. (2010). A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 187. ISBN 978-0742567139.
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  21. ^ Journal, Michael SchumanStaff Reporter of The Wall Street. "Hanbo Scandal Highlights Failings of Kim's Crusade". WSJ. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  22. ^ Jon S. T. Quah (21 July 2011). Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An Impossible Dream?. Emerald Group Publishing. pp. 307–308. ISBN 978-0-85724-820-6. Archived from the original on 20 March 2020. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
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  24. ^ Sebastian Edwards (15 February 2009). Capital Controls and Capital Flows in Emerging Economies: Policies, Practices, and Consequences. University of Chicago Press. p. 503. ISBN 978-0-226-18499-9. Archived from the original on 20 September 2020. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
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  26. ^ "South Korea's president said tragedy and "loneliness" drove her to rely on a shadowy female confidante". 4 November 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  27. ^ Kihwan, Kim. (2006). The 1997–98 Korean Financial Crisis: Causes, Policy Response, and Lessons. Archived 5 June 2019 at the Wayback Machine The High-Level Seminar on Crisis Prevention in Emerging Markets, The International Monetary Fund and The Government of Singapore
  28. ^ Lim, Sunghack. (2005). Foreign Capital Entry in the Domestic Banking Market of Korea: Bitter Medicine or Poison. Korean Political Science Review, 39(4)
  29. ^ Hahm, Joon-Ho. (2005). The Resurgence of Banking Institutions in Post-crisis Korea. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 35(3)
  30. ^ 하태원기자. "[김영삼 전 대통령 서거] '大道無門' 거침없었던 YS의 삶". (in Korean). Retrieved 21 November 2023.
  31. ^ a b "Hospital official: Former South Korean President Kim Young-sam". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  32. ^ a b c Kim Tong-hyung (26 November 2015). "S. Koreans mourn ex-President Kim in state funeral". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  33. ^ "데일리 오피니언 제567호(2023년 11월 5주) - 역대 대통령 10인 개별 공과(功過) 평가 (11월 통합 포함)". Gallup Korea. 30 November 2023. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  34. ^ Kim Su-min (8 December 2023). "역대 대통령 공과 평가, 대구경북민들은 어떻게 응답했나". NewsMin (in Korean). Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  35. ^ Cho, Moon-hee; Lee, Doo-ri (5 September 2023). "국민의힘 당대표실 이승만·박정희·김영삼 액자 사진 더 커진 이유는?". Kyunghyang Shinmun (in Korean). Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  36. ^ Yonhap news agency Archived 30 March 2019 at the Wayback Machine. 10 March 1997.
  37. ^ ""제주 '강간'의 도시" YS 일화, 사실일까" (in Korean). 28 November 2015.
  38. ^ "The Order of Sikatuna". Official Gazette.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of South Korea
25 February 1993 – 25 February 1998
Succeeded by