Cho Bong-am (Hangul/Hanja: 조봉암/曺奉岩 or 曹奉岩, Born: September 25th 1898 in Jisan-ri, Seonwon-myeon, Ganghwa County, Incheon Metropole - Executed: July 31st 1959 at Seodaemun Prison, Hyeonjeo-dong, Seoul Seodaemun-gu), known with his pen name of Juksan (죽산/竹山) was a Korean independence activist and politician, who ran for president in the South Korean presidential election in 1956. He is a member of Changnyeong Cho Clan (창녕조씨/昌寧曺氏), a clan which is originated from Changnyeong County, Southern Gyeongsang Province. He was a founding member of the Korean Communism party (조선공산당/朝鮮共産黨) and the Progressive Party (진보당 進步黨), a moderate socialist democratic party in South Korea that was one of the country's major political forces.
Cho Bong-am studied in Japan and the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, he was active in the Korean Communist Party. Post Japanese Rule though, Cho defected from the Communist Party in 1946, criticizing it for its subservience to the Soviet Union. After the end of the United States Army Military Government in Korea in 1947, Cho became the Minister of Agriculture under Syngman Rhee's presidency.
In 1952, Cho ran for presidency for the first time against sitting president Rhee, and Yi Si-yeong. He gained only 0.8 million votes out of 5.2 million. The Progressive Party was founded in the aftermath of the Korean War under Cho's leadership. Cho and his followers were able to build a wide coalition with the country's leftist forces. Cho also successfully created coalitions right-wing forces opposed to Syngman Rhee's dictatorship.
The party's founding and moderate success in Korea's hostile political environment is considered a large result of Bong-am's personal charisma. The Progressive Party advocated peaceful unification with North Korea, through strengthening the country's democratic forces and winning in a unified Korean election. Cho called for both anti-communist and anti-authoritarian politics, as well as advocating for social welfare policies for the peasants and urban poor.
In the 1956 election, Cho ran against Rhee, the anti-communist strongman previous president. Cho lost with 30% of the vote, which exceeded expectations. Following the election, the Progressive Party broke apart due to factionalism. Three years after the election, Cho was charged with espionage, and receiving funds from North Korea. He was executed on July 31st 1959 in Seodaemun Prison. Before he escorted to an execution chamber, Cho Bong-am reportedly said, “If I committed something wrong, it was that I entered politics. Please give me something alcoholic to drink.” He buried at Mangu Park Cemetery, Seoul Jungnang-gu after his execution on the gallows.