[OUTLOOK] Words From a Man Who Would Be King

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[OUTLOOK] Words From a Man Who Would Be King

"Name a person," Rhee In-je, a member of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's Supreme Council, challenged. He was telling me to name a ruling party politician who could successfully run against Lee Hoi-chang, the opposition leader, during next year's presidential election.

But then he provided an answer himself. "It's eventually going to be me. That's what the polls indicate."

He immediately raised another question: "Why do we need political realignment?" Again he answered the question himself. "For there to be crustal movements, magma should be boiling beneath the earth. But do we have that magma? Apparently not. But why do people pursue political realignment?"

Leaving that question aside, Mr. Rhee went on to another subject: "Political realignment aimed at excluding someone cannot be supported by the people."

Mr. Rhee sounded as if he were questioning the intention of those pursuing realignment among different political forces in Korea. Mr. Rhee is concerned that, under the cover of anti- Lee Hoi-chang, there could be hidden elements that are also against his candidacy.

He said the identical thing when I met him three months ago.

"The ruling party is trying to debilitate Mr. Lee, thereby expan-ding its own pool of presidential hopefuls."

In other words, Mr. Rhee was saying the ruling party was trying to pick a candidate whom it likes rather than someone who can actually win. Loyalty comes before the ability to attract votes.

The end result, according to Mr. Rhee, will be an attempt to debilitate Mr. Lee's candidacy. The talk of fielding a candidate from the southeastern region of Yeongnam was in the same vein, Mr. Rhee said.

I think Mr. Rhee considers the talk of political realignment within the ruling party as stemming from the same idea behind the attempt to incapacitate Lee Hoi-chang.

"Do you think a three-way race or the three Kims' union is possible?" (President Kim Dae-jung, former President Kim Young Sam, and the leader of the United Liberal Democrats, Kim Jong-pil)

According to Mr. Rhee, such ideas were not only unrealistic but also lacked legitimacy.

"In the end, things will come around to where the whole thing began."

Mr. Rhee's conclusion was concise. The reason was simple. The way he interpreted the recent series of events was rather innovative. He saw the alliance between Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil differently than most people.

"Kim Young-sam entered a partnership with Kim Jong-pil so that Kim Jong-pil couldn't form an alliance with Lee Hoi-chang. As long as Kim Young-sam is around Kim Jong-pil, Kim Jong-pil can't align himself with Lee Hoi-chang. Nor can Kim Jong-pil go back to Kim Dae-jung." In other words, Kim Young-sam is standing at the center of it all to prevent political realignment. Mr. Rhee's analysis goes counter to the common explanation that is floating around. He emphasized that it was his own interpretation.

"Whom do you think Kim Young-sam is doing that for?" I asked.

"He doesn't like Lee Hoi-chang," Mr. Rhee answered. "Whom do you think Kim Young-sam is rooting for?"

"At least he likes me more than Lee Hoi-chang."

"But you've been under Kim Dae-jung. Would Kim Young-sam support you?"

Mr. Rhee's terse responses began to get longer at this point.

"Once I become a candidate, there is no reason why Kim Young-sam would not support me. Kim Dae-jung is not going to be around during the next election. There will only be a candidate supported by him. There is no one for Kim Young-sam to direct his hatred at."

I then asked Mr. Rhee whether he intended to seek support from Kim Jong-pil, who, like Mr. Rhee, hails from Chungcheong province. "He has refused to meet me for the past three years. A beggar could have met him. I mean it's not like I could beg in front of his house."

Mr. Rhee clearly did not intend to extend his hand to Kim Jong-pil. He tried hard to ignore the JP factor.

"When was the last time you talked one-on-one with President Kim Dae-jung?"

"During the general elections last year was the last time."

"What's your strategy from now on?"

"I'll go my own way."

Lest that be misunderstood, Mr. Rhee hastened to add: "It'll all be alright in the end. It'll all come around."


by Lee Youn-hong

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