Politics in the Post-Nobel Period

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Politics in the Post-Nobel Period

At a private gathering in the late fall of 1997, then-presidential candidate Kim Dae-jung, or DJ as he is popularly called, candidly confessed his ambition to be president and appealed for support.

Since then, Mr. Kim has fulfilled his lifelong dream, and also that of his native region, the Cholla Provinces, that had yearned to produce a Korean leader. This achievement alone is great enough, but he also received the Nobel Peace Prize for dramatically advancing inter-Korean relations and easing tension on the Korean peninsula, another of his ardent wishes. The Nobel Peace Prize confers a great honor on the nation as well as on the recipient. Although Mr. Kim modestly credited his winning to the support of the people, the Nobel was the international community''s recognition of his accomplishments throughout his life.

It is encouraging to see Mr. Kim acting so modestly, and also openly since winning the prize. He said he had been in the living room with his wife watching TV when he heard the news of his winning the Nobel. "This is embarrassing to admit, but I hugged my wife and we rejoiced together. It seemed like a dream," he said. The candid statement was a refreshing surprise, and many people felt that the almost octogenarian presidential couple is no different from us.

Mr. Kim said that he feels a great sense of responsibility for having been named to receive the prestigious Nobel Prize, and vowed to implement politics of harmony as his most important task. Though it seems ironic that a Peace Nobelist president should decide to focus on curing the nation of conflicts and on generating harmony as his foremost priority, this is just what the nation needs the most. The president also disbanded a special police unit under the direct command of the presidential office, a unit which had been accused of cracking down on the political opponents of the ruling party, and issued a series of directives aimed at reconciliation with the political opposition.

The nation''s politics could sail with balmy winds if the ruling party were to accord the opposition even half the sincerity and effort it has exerted towards North Korea. Even more important is determining the priority measures that must be taken to achieve national harmony.

We can state with conviction that the most urgent task lies in ensuring fair and transparent personnel administration.

I have a friend who voted for Mr. Kim four times in past presidential elections, but this once ardent supporter recently turned anti-DJ for a simple reason. This friend, born in Seoul and working as a bureau chief at a government ministry, aired his disgust at how people from Cholla have taken over virtually every high position in his ministry since the current administration was inaugurated. Incompetent people much younger than he also are being promoted only because they are from the president''s home region..

The phenomenon is not limited to one government agency. The heads of quasi-government newspapers and TV networks in which the government has influence in personnel matters are all from the Cholla provinces. Almost all the managers of key departments at these media organizations are also from the southwest.

Mr. Kim must also devise carefully thought-out reforms before implementing them. Mr. Kim, who calls himself a "prepared president," is pushing ahead with hurriedly prepared and defective reforms which dismay the people and cause conflicts. The educational and medical reform bills the current administration conceived are examples of the worst reforms possible. The medical bill even endangered the lives of people after doctors began a protest strike against what they saw as unfair reform measures. A "prepared president," as Mr. Kim is fond of saying, should be able to amend flawed reform measures so they can be better received by the people and produce the desired effects.

Finally, President Kim must apply equal standards in investigating the irregularities of influential figures. The government claimed that it could not confirm the whereabouts of the former head of a bankrupt conglomerate whose failure cost the nation astronomical amounts of money. Rumor has it that even North Korea knows his whereabouts and has invited him to Pyongyang. Many cases of suspected influence peddling by government officials and confidants of the president are coming to light, but few believe they will be investigated properly. The failure to deal with corruption in a fair and transparent manner is causing the seeds of disharmony to take root.

I would dearly like to see President Kim achieve national harmony as befits the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and complete his presidential term amid sincere applause for his achievements. Becoming a leader that history evaluates as a great president is not just his personal dream. It is the nation''s dream as well.
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