[INSIGHT] Politics Going to Hell in a Handbasket

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[INSIGHT] Politics Going to Hell in a Handbasket

The prediction that Korea would have great luck in the 21st century made me look forward to the new century for a while. But observing the current situation of Korea leads to a gloomy outlook for its future prospects. Many people are wondering how they will endure the one year left in the Kim Dae-jung administration. It makes me depressed all the more to realize that the next administration will not have much strength left to explore the nation's destiny; it will be too busy straightening up the mess made by its predecessor.

The rancor runs deep in Korean society. There is profound hatred everywhere - between the ruling and opposition parties, among different groups in the public sector, among those in different workplaces and regions, between people who pocketed money by shady means and those who did not and between those who profited from political connections and those who did not. The conflict is the result of bad personnel management, mass dismissals from jobs, tax probes, wiretapping and other investigations by the ruling party and administration.

The opposition party says that political retaliation should be banned, but it is doubtful whether they will stick to their word after they regain power. There will be too much pressure for retaliation. Even if the ruling party is re-elected, it will probably try to distance itself from this administration and criticize selectively the things its predecessor has done. No matter which party comes into power, it will have to concentrate its full political and social energy on settling and managing the hatred and rancor accumulated by the botched management of the current administration.

Even worse, it is clear that all sorts of suspicions aroused by various scandals will be an obstacle for the future of Korea. The investigations to dig into all kinds of "gates" that have aroused the public will probably be left to the next administration.

These days, people grumble that those who pocket money through shady means should have the decency to do it without getting caught, or complete their "mission" more "elegantly." People are annoyed about the constant uproar and confusion the scandals have caused.

No one believes that corruption will be eradicated. People are tolerant enough to understand that hidden corruption will not be scraped out completely. But corruption that has been discovered should at least appear to have been dealt with. Trying to cover up a scandal is more devilish.

In the case of Lee Yong-ho, there was an investigation on who ordered his release and three prosecutors resigned from their posts, although it took some time for them to do so. But who is questioning why the investigation on the head of the economic division of the National Intelligence Service has been suspended for 10 months, and who is responsible for the delay?

There should be an investigation on how Ahn Jung-nam, the former Commissioner of National Tax Service who is "renowned" for meting out justice through taxation, obtained real estate in the southern part of Seoul. People should know how a mere salesman could attract 16 trillion won ($12.3 billion) of Post Office savings deposits. The allegations that ruling party insiders acted to have land located in Bundang rezoned should be cleared up also.

It is hard to expect that these questions will be cleared up within a year. The ruling party accuses the opposition of exaggerated suspicions or political maneuvering. The ruling party is responding with legal actions and explanations, but they failed to dispel people's suspicions.

The dark clouds of suspicion will not disappear even if the opposition stops its criticism and the media stop carrying reports about their attacks. It will be cleared only when the truth is disclosed. These corruption issues will be handed over to the next administration, either in the form of reinvestigations or new public hearings, exhausting the social and political energy of the nation.

To evade the looming disaster, the instincts of each group to look to its own interests and its own links of corruption should be eliminated, but that does not seem possible.

I want the ruling party to use its remaining time to clean up its messes and establish a new framework, but the ruling party does not look capable of or willing to do so. But still, it would be much better for this administration to leave the government in order for its successor to get a clean start. If the present ruling party hands over its ugly legacy, then the next administration will be hurt and tired.

The present administration should promote politics that would ease the burdens of the next administration. I hope the dark outlook of the Korean future will be offset by a prospering private sector or by radical changes in international society.

The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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