[EDITORIALS]Taking off the gloves

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[EDITORIALS]Taking off the gloves

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party's primary has entered a new phase, where two leading candidates have launched an ideological debate. Representative Rhee In-je has labeled his strong rival, Roh Moo-hyun, a "radical leftist" based on Mr. Roh's past remarks made on the National Assembly floor and in the speeches he has delivered. Questionable remarks made by Mr. Roh, and cited by Mr. Rhee, are: "We should not obey a law that is unjust . . . laborers should become the central actors of the world . . . dissolve the conglomerates and distribute stocks to the laborers . . . write off debt and redistribute land to low-income people and farmers."

Mr. Roh refutes Mr. Rhee for employing both "McCarthyism and Grand National Party logic." Currents of emotion have run strong in the exchange, which is tainted by crude ideological wrangling that is threatening to turn the primary into a bitter battleground.

Having adopted the primary, where half the 70,000-strong electorate are volunteer voters, it is a given procedure that the candidates undergo scrutiny of their policies and ideological orientations. It is natural for the voters to want clarification on Mr. Roh's past remarks recalled by Mr. Rhee, for they are anachronistic, inciting and shocking. Mr. Roh explained that the remarks were made symbolically to shed light on the isolated laborers in Korean society, and were made as metaphors. His response, however, only gives the impression that he is trying to avoid the real questions posed to him. Mr. Roh should explain why he made those remarks, and where he stands on these issues right now. Whether Mr. Rhee's attack follows similar logic with that of the Grand National Party does not excuse Mr. Roh from clarifying his position.

Mr. Rhee has triggered the latest dispute as part of a strategy to surmount his strong rival. Nevertheless, it is a step forward for the primary race by making issues, policies and a candidate's stance on them the important aspects. But the candidates should not try to turn the primary into an "ideological war," a dark side of Korean politics that may entrap the two in needless slandering and personal attacks. Coolness, not uncouthness, is lacking. The candidates should let the voters decide if those running have the ability and awareness of a CEO-style president needed to upgrade our nation and politics.
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