[INSIGHT]Climb Off Your Throne, President Kim

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[INSIGHT]Climb Off Your Throne, President Kim

Many people these days are asking questions of President Kim Dae-jung. The questioners include not only opposition party members and the major newspapers, whose job it is to probe the ruling party, but also social leaders, intellectuals and specialist organizations. The Korea Bar Association in July challenged the government to respond to charges that under it, constitutionalism has deteriorated. Following that, in August, two groups of political, social and religious organization representatives released critical statements.

These days, it's hard enough to arrange a lunch appointment with four or five busy people. It takes a lot more work for professional people to stand up and express a collective opinion. For dozens or hundreds of people around the nation to write campaign letters, have discussions on a draft and make an official statement, it takes strenuous effort and resolution. The driving power behind these people's efforts must have been the feeling that crisis is gripping every part of our society. The release of statements were followed by rallies held by university students and a third statement issued by social leaders of ethnic Koreans in the United States.

Their vehement opinions call the government to account. For instance, one of the statements, signed by 115 people, demanded that political power be diffused. In other words, it implied that the existing power structure is overly centralized. It also said that those conducting reform should be made clean before they attempt to impose reform on others.

The statement read: "We all need Hongjae stream to wash away the ills of habitual cheating." In history, women who were raped by the enemy during the Manchurian invasion of the 16th century "purified" themselves by washing in the Hongjae stream. Their husbands and family accepted their "restored virtue." It seems to me that these critics are saying that it is not right to question only enemies about their past when no one is free from past ills.

The other statement seemed to lament that the forum for public debate in our society has vanished. It suggested that the press has been suffocated by the government. It also urged that the press perform a self-examination and demanded that the broadcasting companies such as Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, Korea Broadcasting System and YTN, and the news agency Yonhap News that are under the strong influence of the government, extricate themselves.

Many people expected President Kim to respond to all these charges in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech. Perhaps he could have acknowledged the concerns over shaking government or promised to try to decentralize political power. It would also have been desirable for the president to clarify his prescription against the violent disintegration of society, and the current trend of casting people around us as friend or foe.

These are pressing issues in our society. Seeking the solution to these issues is key to settling the tumultuous situation. Many people have waited anxiously for President Kim to suggest a solution to the current disturbance and admit an awareness of the situation in his Aug. 15 speech.

But disappointingly, President Kim missed his greatest chance to answer back. The points that did take up a large part of his speech - the proposed meeting between himself and the leader of the opposition party and political reforms - are indeed necessary. However, these things did not necessarily need to be mentioned in the Liberation Day speech. If President Kim had any intention of holding a meeting between ruling and opposition party leaders and performing political reforms then these things should have been discussed and realized well before Aug. 15.

The ruling party members must be aware of the seriousness and importance of concerns expressed by various sectors of society, including the statements issued by the social, political and religious organization representatives. The ruling party members might be paying special attention since these issues are so important. President Kim's response to the issues raised by these sectors of the society in his speech was totally insufficient. Perhaps, then, the president has put off responding to a later date, when he can respond more fully.

But, as he hesitates, more and more questions come up. Who will take responsibility for Korea being dishonored by being designated second-rate in air safety? What will the government do about the South Korean delegation that illegally participated in the Grand Festival for National Reunification in Pyongyang? Will a meeting between the leaders of the ruling and opposition party really be held? Will the president impose reforms on the government itself?

The faster these questions are answered the better. Putting them off will only make matters worse.


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

by Song Chin-hyok

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