[EDITORIALS]And now for Act II

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[EDITORIALS]And now for Act II

Will the curtain fall halfway through on the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's primary? As a primary candidate, Representative Rhee In-je remains huddled in his home in Seoul mulling the possibility of withdrawing from the race. Voters who followed the ruling party's primary with keen interest are clearly taken aback by Mr. Rhee's actions. They are disappointed that they may no longer witness the gripping turnarounds and flip-flops of a drama that Korean politics has never quite produced before. But there is a sense of regret that politicians are still far from being honest actors who do their best onstage and admit their mistakes.

Mr. Rhee seems dogged by a complex brew of emotions and motives. He seems to be regretting that he was too complacent in believing his lead in the polls. He seems to strongly suspect the "invisible hand" of the Blue House in the stellar performance of his rival, another party senior adviser, Roh Moo-hyun. There seems to be a fear of public backlash over his dropping out of the race, as well as a temptation to take the overwhelming support he received in South Chungcheong province and Daejeon by bolting the ruling party. Whatever card Mr. Rhee puts forth, it will surely be a mix of justification and practicality. A bigger question: How receptive will the voters be? Political pundits are predicting that Mr. Rhee, who already suffers the label of a sore loser after the then-ruling party's nomination in the 1997 presidential election, will forever wear that label like a scarlet letter.

A politician's decision about his future should be made in a manner with which the public can empathize. Mr. Rhee may quit in the middle of the primaries. But that would be a hard sell for he is the leading candidate. We sense that Mr. Rhee is doing political math: Give up the lead before it is actually overtaken by Mr. Roh. By doing so, he can call attention to a theory that conspiracy is afoot to make Mr. Roh the party's presidential nominee. The choice is Mr. Rhee's to make. But there will be no escaping the ensuing public judgment and the responsibility. The future of Mr. Rhee's political career and the fate of the ruling party's primary rests on his decision.
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