[INSIGHT]New Shoots Must Displace the Old Roots

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[INSIGHT]New Shoots Must Displace the Old Roots

One could make the mistake of thinking the Democratic Justice Party (DJP) - the ruling party under Presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo - has made a comeback. Look at some of the high officials currently inhabiting the upper circles of the coalition of the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats. Prime Minister Lee Han-dong (ULD), MDP Chairman Kim Joong-kwon and acting president of the UDP, Kim Chong-hoh, were all in hot demand in political circles in the old days of the DJP. Since the tiny minority Democratic People's Party will also join the coalition, its chairman Kim Yoon-whan - also a figure of times gone by - will contribute to the sense of deja vu.

Let's fly back to the fall of 1986. Four men gather somewhere near the DJP headquarters in Insadong. At that time, these four men were in important posts. Surprise, surprise: Lee Han-dong is there, as chairman of the policy committee; Kim Joong-kwon crops up as deputy secretary general of the DJP; Kim Chong-hoh appears as home affairs minister, and Kim Yoon-whan occupies the post of senior presidential secretary for political affairs. As the movements of Kim Dae-jung, then co-chairman of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, were then a matter of concern to the ruling party, it is possible that the four men may have met to discuss putting him under house arrest.

It is startling to learn that these men with DJP roots are still deep in current politics. The Grand National Party in particular revolves around former members of the DJP. Of the 11 vice chairmen, six are former members of the DJP, as are a significant proportion of party executives.

Former President Kim Young-sam once boasted that making a coalition of three parties - the DJP, Reunification Democratic Party and New Democratic Republican Party - was as high-stakes and as potentially rewarding as "catching a tiger by going into its den." But that coalition, which he headed and which ended up fusing into the New Korea Party, then mutated into today's opposition Grand National Party - and where are any traces of the former president? His circle of confidants is now far away from the power structure of the GNP. The glory of coming into power for Kim Young-sam was ephemeral. The final result of his gamble? The tiger has eaten him.

The DJP administration was challenged by the two Kims. The great irony is that former DJP members are still features in the current political system, despite the fact that both Kims have come to power in succession.

It could be argued that this is due to the expert individual skills of former DJP members, but that is not convincing. More likely is the lack of competent human resources in the camps of the two Kims who led the democratization movement. They have also been crippled by the regionalist cracks which fractured their hold on power, and they appealed to former DJP members for help in maintaining their authority.

That the two Kims relied on such limited human resources in the democratization movement is their failure. If the two Kims had succeeded in finding talents who were fresh, clean and proficient and supported them as a central core of their movement, the current reform measures would not have floundered so appallingly.

The recent reshuffle confirms the lack of a talent pool with the reinstatement of people previously withdrawn for ignominious reasons. Former minister Park Jie-won, who stepped aside after being linked to a loan scandal, returned as senior presidential secretary for policy. Lee Hae-chan, reproached for his overly radical education reforms, was reemployed as chief policy maker of the Millennium Democratic Party, and Kwon Roh-kap, the eldest of President Kim's circle of confidants from his opposition days, announced his intention to make a political comeback despite being embroiled in scandal in the past. The lack of the ruling party to find enthusiastic, fresh new faces is disappointing.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Heo Nam-chin

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