[EDITORIALS]Conspiracies and elections

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[EDITORIALS]Conspiracies and elections

How real is the ghostly haze of conspiracy said to be hovering over the Millennium Democratic Party's primary elections? Politicians wonder, now that the primaries have winnowed the field to four candidates.

Charges of conspiracy center not on campaign strategies of individual candidates, but on an alleged hidden role by President Kim Dae-jung, who earlier promised to keep his distance from politics.

The basic assumption in the conspiracy theory is that Mr. Kim is exerting behind-the-scenes influence on MDP primary elections and ultimately will try to intervene in the general election to block the election of the opposition Grand National Party's candidate next December.

The theory is a grand one, envisioning a whole crop of new political parties. At the moment, though, the whispers center on Roh Moo-hyun, a dark horse candidate who is seen in some quarters as a better presidential bet than Representative Rhee In-je, who trails opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang in the polls.

Should there be any substance to the conspiracy theory, not only will it deal a moral and political blow to the Kim Dae-jung administration, but it would damage our election system fundamentally. The ruling party would surely be swept away by internal turmoil rejecting the outcome of the primaries, and the opposition would attack the ruling party's attempts to artificially realign Korean politics.

That would throw the country into turmoil in a presidential election year.

The Blue House denies flatly that there is any conspiracy, and adds that there is no reason for the president to become involved in the nominee selection. Answering suggestions that Mr. Kim would favor Mr. Roh because he would protect the president after he steps down, the Blue House asked if there had ever been a president who benefitted from his successor's help.

Many people are still skeptical, however. They note that Mr. Kim has broken his political pledges many times in his long career, and that the presidential nomination is too important for Mr. Kim for him to just sit by and watch its progress. "Tree leaves do not tremble for no reason," they note. Even if the rumors of a conspiracy are not true, the skeptics' logic has enough merit to make people wonder. Should Mr. Rhee, who is increasingly on the defensive against Mr. Roh, continue to fan this theory, it may take on a life of its own.

The conspiracy idea first bubbled up when North Jeolla Governor You Jong-keun withdrew from the ruling party primary after the first two rounds. As he quit, Mr. You said that he had been pressured by a senior administration official to do so.

Mr. You also said that the next candidate to withdraw would be a candidate with the initial "H." Then, Mr. Roh came from nowhere to win the Gwangju primary, and Representative Hahn Hwa-kap withdrew his bid, as allegedly desired by the "invisible hand" behind the conspiracy. Rhee In-je's woes mounted. His core campaign strategist, Kim Woon-whan, was arrested for bribery committed a long time ago. The media suddenly began to report that Mr. Roh was leading in a series of opinion polls that all came out at about the same time.

Everybody loves a juicy rumor, but there is nothing concrete to be seen here. Cynics have their own theory: Mr. Rhee is attempting to lay the groundwork for overturning the primary results should he lose.

The circulation of groundless rumors is bad for our politics and our country. We must get to the bottom of the matter so that public hatred of politics and politicians does not swell up again. Politicians, especially those who claim that they are the targets of conspirators, should make public any proof they have in order to force a public examination of the charges.

If politicians are circulating groundless rumors with a view to turning the tide of the primaries in their favor, they should apologize to the public.

It is time for conspiratorial politics, spun on deceit and bewilderment, to fade away.
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