DJ’s Right and Duty to Vote

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DJ’s Right and Duty to Vote

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) announced that President Kim Dae-jung, the party leader, will not be voting in the party’s upcoming national convention, following the advice of party officials. It is puzzling why the party executives have given such advice.

MDP officials are saying that the advice was given to avoid any wrangling over and speculation on "DJ’s choice." Does this mean that President Kim will not be voting in the future election to choose the party's presidential candidate or even in the 16th presidential election in 2002, for the same reason? Who the president casts the ballot for is an issue of interest in any election and there is no reason to suppress that interest. Such interest would not do any harm to anybody, as long as the principle of a secret ballot is observed and the president himself refrains from talking about it.

An MDP official reportedly said, "From the president's position, every candidate is dear and precious, and of equal importance." Actually, we can sympathize with the president. Among the candidates competing in the election of seven co-chairpersons, some have been imprisoned in the past because of their alliances with President Kim and some have even served as his secretary, while every one of the candidates is vowing to continue and develop President Kim's political philosophy and policies. It is quite possible that he does not want to cast a vote that could affect the victories or defeats of the candidates.

Were this logic to prevail, should other party representatives also refrain from choosing from among a group of their favorite candidates? In any given election, there are candidates who inevitably fail to be elected, as long as there is more than one. What's more, what is the party going to say if a representative chooses not to vote just because there are no candidates to his or her liking?

Talking about every candidate being dear and precious, and therefore of "equal importance" to President Kim betrays a dangerous pattern of thought. It gives the impression that the MDP is President Kim's personal possession, under his patriarchal control. The MDP should also realize that there are problems with the fact that no one is raising any objections to President Kim's decision to waive his right to vote.

President Kim may have decided that it would be inappropriate for him to vote in the election of posts below his own rank. If true, he made a grave mistake. He should not fail to vote, even if the MDP were electing candidates for a local parliament. It is the very essence of democracy. As the highest elected official of the country, President Kim has the obligation to set an example.

"There is no need for President Kim to participate in the vote because he is in the position to nominate five other co-chairpersons," the MDP alleged. Even if one does not bother with the controversy over whether it is both desirable and necessary for the president to nominate five co-chairpersons while an election of those very positions is being held, it is hard to tell whether the MDP believes that "it does not matter who wins in the election" or that the president is exempt from the duty of a party member to vote on its top officials. Any one of the MDP's representatives should try his or her best to ensure that the most befitting and deserving candidates win the election. The surest way of doing that is to vote.

The MDP also explained that the measure was taken for the sake of "the unity of the party." If so, the logic could be extended to say that the unity of the party would be guaranteed only if Chairman Suh Young-hoon’s and President Kim's close, influential confidants in the party refrain from voting as well. Instead of evading the responsibility of taking part in the election, President Kim should keep a strict watch on the cronies around him who are instigating divisions within the party by alleging that they have the inside ear to President Kim's thoughts.

The upcoming national convention marks the ruling party's first free election of its top officials. It is an election that the MDP has proclaimed would initiate an "important development in party democracy." It is clear that the significance will be diminished greatly if the party leader himself shuns the election. People are wondering why the MDP has chosen to degrade the national convention into "a trivial event."

If the MDP has made its decision only to prevent President Kim from becoming a lame duck in the later stages of his presidential term, then the MDP should not have decided to hold the election in the first place.

Moreover, President Kim has declared that the election should not be associated in anyway with choosing the candidates for the next presidential election in 2002 or with choosing the party leader who will succeed him. In that case, it should be natural and logical for President Kim to participate in the election without unnecessary worries.

by Kim Kyo-joon

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