[FORUM]Lead, follow or get out of the way

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[FORUM]Lead, follow or get out of the way

While the supporters of the opposition Grand National Party are bored with old-style politics, the supporters of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party seem excited at the idea of dramatic primaries.

The widespread view that Grand National Party President Lee Hoi-chang is the presidential hopeful with majority support has diminished. Mr. Lee simply has continued to present unsatisfactory policies.

Mr. Lee has never made a decision in a crisp manner. He has always hesitated in making decisions, and his decisions have left room for controversy. For example, Mr. Lee recently said he plans to put the party on an acting-presidency footing as soon as he officially launches his presidential bid. Mr. Lee insisted it is a compromise plan between the reform in the leadership structure called for by some GNP members and the conservation of the leadership for victory in the presidential election. His plan is accompanied by complex conditions.

Some nonmainstream members of the party, such as Representative Kim Deog-ryong and Representative Hong Sa-duk said they were not satisfied by Mr. Lee's plan. In addition, if complex conditions accompany a plan, they undercut the effect of the plan. Such a plan then is seldom attractive.

In the Korean political culture, a most-probable presidential hopeful in a party will remain at the center of the party's power structure, even if he resigns as party president. Most party members will follow him. Mr. Lee's thinking that if he resigns from his party post he will face difficulties in controlling the party, seems the result of a lack of political sense.

Mr. Lee, a former judge, is legally minded. Thus, it might be difficult to expect him to be political sensitive. He can, however, turn a crisis into an opportunity if he undersands public opinion. Supporters of the Grand National Party regret he does not.

Of the recent scandal over his luxurious house, Mr. Lee apologized saying, "It's a reflection of my careless behavior." But the public is interested in details of the scandal, such as who the real owner of the house is and how much property the family of Mr. Lee's in-laws own, and the life- style of his married sons' and daughter's families.

Without explanations of those matters, a strong apology to the public simply is not enough.

Mr. Lee seems to have the view that "On a legal basis, the house has no problems." Mr. Lee took such an attitude about the scandal regarding his son's military service five years ago, and thus suffered a serious backlash. Recalling this, supporters of the Grand National Party sighed, "Why doesn't Mr. Lee change?" Middle- and lower-class people have grown upset with such scandals. Accordingly, Mr. Lee's slogans for protection of middle and low-class people and removal of corruption do not appeal to them.

Though Mr. Lee's status as a presidential hopeful with majority support has weakened, GNP mainstreamers remain confident. They believe that the public eagerly wants the opposition party candidate to replace the Kim Dae-jung administration, so riddled with problems. But supporters of the GNP question whether the opposition party candidate will remain competitive if the ruling party reforms itself first.

The advance of Roh Moo-hyun in the MDP primary is causing concerns among supporters of the GNP. Mr. Roh is a reform figure in the ruling party. His ideas and views on history and policy are progressive. Supporters of the opposition party worry whether Mr. Lee's leadership and view of history will be competitive against those of Mr. Roh's.

Mr. Lee failed to raise North Korea's real problem - a heavy reliance on arms development while people die of starvation ?during the debate over President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" remark. Mr. Lee's view on the "evaluation of former President Park Chung Hee," which is one of the hottest issues in Korean history, also is ambiguous.

Mr. Lee says, "If you want to catch a deer, you should not turn your eyes to a rabbit," suggesting that he will focus only on winning the presidential election. But the supporters of the GNP want Mr. Lee to first show his ability to catch a rabbit, including reform of the party leadership structure and a clear view of history.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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