[INSIGHT]Corruption as a campaign focus

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[INSIGHT]Corruption as a campaign focus

When Confucius was asked by his disciple Zi Gong for the key to politics, he answered with the three Chinese characters meaning arms, food, and trust.

He meant that the state must be well-armed and well-fed, and the people must trust their leader. Zi Gong persisted, "What if you had to give up one for the other two?" Confucius replied, "Then you give up arms. The last thing you give up is trust. Trust is the foundation of a state."

If Confucius had seen our society now, he would have found it completely devoid of trust and thus on the brink of collapse. According to a poll conducted by the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy of middle and high school students in Seoul last November, 41 percent said, "It is not necessary to obey the law if no one is watching." More than 30 percent said, "If I witness a case of injustice that doesn't do me any harm, I do nothing about it." More than 40 percent said that they expected society to become even more corrupt when they became adults.

Another research group asked adults here similar questions and got similar responses. About one-third answered that they wouldn't keep the law if no one was watching. Nearly 40 percent said they would not hesitate to use bribery if that's what it took to solve their problems. Two-thirds said the level of corruption in our society 10 years from now would be the same or worse. Distrust and the philosophy that cheating is acceptable pervades Korean society.

Right now, the majority of the people would chose economic recovery as their biggest request for President Kim Dae-jung. Yet I think everyone will agree that factors of corruption like the murky and unfair aspects of our economic structure must be destroyed before any progress toward economic recovery can be seen. If only for the sake of economic recovery, we should banish all corruption in our society.

At last, the candidates for the Millennium Democratic Party presidential candidate will have a chance to prove their worthiness before the public in a TV discussion.

There is no medium potentially as efficient, both in terms of effort and money, as a TV discussion to attract public attention and participation to evaluate the candidates' credentials. But as we have seen too often in the past, these TV discussions are used only for displays of witticisms or consciously projected images by the discussants.

An example would be the time honest and earnest Jimmy Carter lost the show and the presidency to Ronald Reagan, who kept the laughter going in a televised debate with witty wisecracks. Whether true in that case or not, the fact remains that TV may very well distort the public's opinion of candidates. Instead of going down a long list of questions that would get shallow answers anyway, the TV discussions should concentrate on one or two major issues that society needs real answers to. That way, the public could evaluate the depth of each candidate's answers.

An excellent question to ask would be about the deep-rooted corruption in our society and how to correct it. All candidates should be asked what they think the roots of corruption in our society are and where, how and why they would set out to destroy the roots. One or two questions may be laughed away with witty remarks by one or two candidates, but they all can't keep that up for one or two hours.

The same logic applies to national governance.

Instead of a fanfare of showy projects, the administration should concentrate on one or two of the most necessary issues during its limited remaining time in power. The abolition of corruption is the one issue that the next president should bet his presidential life on. Until now, our presidents have been designating arms and food as their main objectives. It is now time for trust to be emphasized. So I suggest that countermeasures against corruption be the main topic of the TV discussions and eventually of the next administration and of society in general.


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

by Yu Seung-sam

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