[EDITORIALS]A vote of confidence - now

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[EDITORIALS]A vote of confidence - now

The Millennium Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Roh Moo-hyun, said he would ask the party for a vote of confidence in him after the Aug. 8 by-elections for the National Assembly. He is looking for a way out of the problem posed by the landslide defeat of the MDP in local elections. There is as of yet no enthusiasm among party members for the plan. Mr. Roh said, "I feel responsible for the local election defeat. I am willing to start the primaries to choose a presidential candidate from scratch."

His words sounded serious -- and desperate. But his allies and foes inside the party took very different positions after a party meeting Monday on when to stage the confidence vote. Such a vote could end up not uniting the party, but splintering it.

Those who support Mr. Roh said that vote of confidence should be postponed until after the by-elections to allow the party to focus on those elections first. Those who oppose Mr. Roh said that having him as the party's presidential candidate would not help their chances in the legislative elections; they are advising Mr. Roh's supporters not to try to buy time.

The MDP is adrift. In addition to having a controversial presidential candidate, the party is facing calls for the resignation of the party's chairman, Han Hwa-kap; there are ideological splits in the party's membership and calls for it to split from President Kim Dae-jung, its founder. One party member declared at the meeting that he would not support Mr. Roh's candidacy. The party is limping toward the elections.

The reason that Mr. Roh is not persuasive as a candidate is because of his naive and careless approach to the party's defeat and the need for a vote of confidence in his leadership. He promised such a vote if the party floundered in Busan and South Gyeongsang province; he put himself on the hot seat as a dramatic move to boost the party's popularity in that region. But the voters there let him down. It seems to us that the voters were calling for an immediate vote of confidence in him. Now he wants to postpone that vote until after the by-elections, seemingly trying to find a way out of the predicament he got himself into.

Lawmakers close to Mr. Roh want the party to dissociate itself from Kim Dae-jung. At this point, that is putting the blame for the election defeat in the wrong place. Certainly, the core reason for the election defeat was the scandals involving the president's sons, but no one in the party seemed to take the scandals seriously, even though every member of the party, including Mr. Roh, has at least some involvement in the scandals or their aftermath. We heard about Kim Hong-gul's problems for the first time at the April 13, 2000, National Assembly elections. Almost everyone in the MDP has tried to protect him, competing to see who could be most loyal to the president.

Mr. Roh himself said during the local election campaigns, "I would not condone the corruption of the government. But the corruption in past governments was much worse than the current problems, and we did not know what was happening then as we do now." After the elections, lawmakers close to Mr. Roh started to blame the loss on the president. Political power does not last long, gentlemen.

The MDP will have to take the bull by the horns to get out of the mess they are in. They should seek the truth in all the political scandal investigations and reflect on their complicity, along with the government, in the scandals. Mr. Roh should ask for a vote of confidence by his party as soon as possible. That is the road that a statesman should take at this point.

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