[OUTLOOK]Election gave us a history lessonThe phrase "what if?" has proven to be "indeed." The frustration that people felt at the Kim Dae-jung administration had been apparent even before the elections, but there had been those who still hoped the Millennium Democratic Party would make a comeback in at least one or two places of contention, unlike June's local elections. However, the by-elections on Thursday once again ended with a crushing victory for the Grand National Party. Indeed.
Not even the five major allegations that the Millennium Democrats threw at the Grand National presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang and his family members as a counterattack, the recent storm raised by fresh accusations that Mr. Lee's son had dodged military service, the appeal to stop the single-party monopoly of the Grand National Party and the scouting of Chang Ki-pyo, the "last of the opposition," were good enough to overcome people's judgment on the corruption of the present administration that had exercised a mighty power at the local elections.
After all, the Kim Dae-jung administration had forced the pains of the economic restructuring on the people, chanting "Ten can live if two suffer." All the while, the president's sons were stacking on their verandas piles of money that they had received from big businesses.
The judgment of the people will not easily forgive or forget that monthly allowance of 100 million won ($83,300) the president's son spent for "maintaining his dignity."
The cold-shouldering of the people aside, the recent actions of the Millennium Democrats contributed as much to their defeat. First of all, party members fought among themselves almost every other day over whether they should set up a new party or not, divided into supporters of Roh Moo-hyun, the presidential candidate, and his opponents.
Also, the party neglected to show any signs of reform in its election system if only for the sake of recapturing the trust of the people. It would have been a good idea for the party to hold local primaries for by-election candidates, creating enthusiasm as it did by holding a people's primary.
However, the party broke a promise from its charter to democratize issues, and opted to stick to the old ways of selecting its candidates behind closed doors, throwing away any chance of victory with its own hands.
The significance that this election has in the history of Korean politics is not that the Grand National Party won big and the Millennium Democrats lost major. Rather, the historical lesson of this election is that despite all the efforts to democratize political parties after the era of the "three Kims," such as adopting the primary system, the selection process of party candidates for the National Assembly -- an area of politics where democratization is most necessary -- is still being done "three-Kim" style, that is, behind tightly closed doors. This goes for the ruling and the opposition parties alike. In short, the significance of Thursday's election is that it was a very disappointing election.
With the results of this election, the Grand National Party now holds the majority of the seats and has captured the reins of national politics without any doubts.
The party will be sure to try to drive this atmosphere of the "people's judgment" until the presidential election in December, and for this the party will most probably call for public investigations and hearings on the cases of corruption found within the present administration.
However, the Grand National Party should keep in mind that it now has the responsibility that comes with holding more than half the seats in the National Assembly.
The Grand National Party must show with concrete actions and policies that it is a future-oriented force that is capable of leading Korea into the 21st century and not merely a lucky benefactor of the failures of the two civilian presidents.
The problem is the Millennium Democratic Party. The party that had already seen damage from the talks of creating a new party coming from the minorities within will clearly now see this minority voice grow bigger. Of course, the MDP is free to form a new party. However, pulling down the presidential candidate who was elected by the people at the primaries is fraud on a national scale and mocks the voters. Should the MDP wish to drive Mr. Roh out and start a new party, the people who participated at the primaries should be asked their opinions first.
The new party must also be a future-oriented one that will not start a strategic "anti-Lee Hoi Chang alliance" with the old outcasts of the party, without paying attention to the people's needs.
President Kim is also not free from blame for this election defeat. President Kim had continued to aggravate the people's frustration by refusing to dissolve his peace foundation even after the humiliating defeat at the local election. He kept those who were found to have given money to his son while firing the minister of justice, who had reportedly refused to act under the influence of the Blue House, during the cabinet reshuffling.
As a result, the judgment of the people about the corruption of the administration was held up and that hold-up indirectly led to the victory by the Grand National Party.
Therefore, the president should stop all actions that would result in unwittingly helping the Grand National Party to keep the political neutrality that it promised, and to carry on to its last days a willing spirit to repent of its sins and to reform itself.
The writer is a professor of political science at Sogang University.
by Sonn Ho-chul