On the wall of the dingy third-floor office here of the opposition New Korea Democratic Party, a two-day-old telegram is proudly displayed.

It is addressed to the party's local candidate for the National Assembly, Kim Nok Young, and reads:

"I pray for your sure election and for the victory of free democracy and national reunification." It is signed Kim Dae Jung.

Here perhaps more than elsewhere, Kim Dae Jung remains a force in South Korean politics. He does it without leaving his house in Seoul, where he has been confined by police since his return from exile last week.

Kim formerly represented a district in South Cholla Province, which is at the southern reaches of the Korean peninsula. Kwangju is its capital and Kim's, too.

Kim Nok Young's prediction for a victory began to come true Wednesday morning as returns showed him leading his government party opponent. The New Korea Democratic Party candidate in a second Kwangju district was also winning, with 70 percent returns counted.

Following Kim Dae Jung's arrest on sedition charges in 1980, a street insurrection against the government erupted here, leaving hundreds of people dead.

In other parts of South Korea, Kim's followers see him as a force for democracy, the most effective opponent of President Chun Doo Hwan, a former Army general.

Here, he is seen more as a local boy made good, a strong voice for a province that feels it has suffered at the hands of the Seoul bureaucrats for hundreds of years.

Chun was born in south Kyongsang Province across a chain of mountains from Cholla, as was former president Park Chung Hee. People here complain that development projects have tended to go there, although Chun has pledged to correct that.

Candidate Kim Nok Young was banking on his long association with Kim Dae Jung to come in first in voting for a new National Assembly. The district elects two candidates.

Leaflets include a picture of Kim Nok Young in prisoner's garb, taken after he was arrested at the same time as Kim. His party workers tried to erect a street banner welcoming Kim home but say that police ordered them to take it down.

"Many people believe Kim Dae Jung plus Kim Nok Young equals opposition," Kim Nok Young said, explaining in an interview his vote-gathering appeal.

Across a busy intersection from Kim Nok Young's headquarters is the office of the ruling Democratic Justice Party of President Chun.

The opposition group makes do with shabby furniture, cement floors and cheap plywood walls. The ruling party has comfortable sofas, lavish pictures on the walls and much more space.

The staff of the ruling party recognizes it is working in a dissident stronghold, but maintains that allegiances are shifting and ruling party candidate Lee Young Il will do well. "Many of them have changed their minds and turned to the government party," says government campaign worker Min In Sang. "They have come to believe he is a capable man."

The New Korea Democratic Party, one of three major opposition parties on the ballot, is calling for direct election of the president and an investigation of the 1980 Kwangju killings.

The government party promises to upgrade Kwangju's adminstrative status, giving a promotion to city officials and raising the annual budget by about half a million dollars.