[OUTLOOK]The Maneuvering Around Kim Jong-pil

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[OUTLOOK]The Maneuvering Around Kim Jong-pil

The United Liberal Demo-crats, the smaller of the two ruling coalition parties, and its honorary president Kim Jong-pil are arguing these days that it is reasonable for Mr. Kim to become the next president of South Korea.

Their base of contention: First, among the renowned political "Three Kims," Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung have been president, so now it is Kim Jong-pil's turn. Second, President Kim Dae-jung failed to keep a promise to convert the current president-centered administrative system to a cabinet system that would have made Kim Jong-pil, the former prime minister of the current administration, the real head of government; thus Kim Dae-jung owes the other Mr. Kim his support as presidential candidate. (In 1997, the two Kims buried their differences and agreed to form a united front behind Kim Dae-jung's presidential candidacy.)

When Kim Jong-pil returned from his visit to the United States Aug. 14, some of the welcoming placards contained the words, "President Kim Jong-pil."

Kim Jong-pil's words of late have been evolving. When asked after a meeting with President Kim Dae-jung on March 16 whether he would stand for president in next year's election, he said: "I have no intention to run for election now. When I ran for president in 1987, I thought that was the right way to return to politics. I did not expect to really become president then."

Many interpreted the remark as a renunciation of the presidency. But on April 4 he said, "I do not wish to live like a log that is half-burned. I want to be consumed by the flames, and the only thing left of me should be ashes."

Then, on May 16, when asked by reporters about his election plans, he said, "I would smile, but would not answer."

About then it was revealed that a former member of the ULD had submitted a document to Kim Jong-pil proposing that if the "Three Kims" wanted to maintain their influence, he should be the sole candidate from the ruling camp for the next presidential election. In June, Kim Jong-pil moved the tombs of his parents from his hometown in South Chungchong province to a gravesite that is said to harbor "royal spirit."

Of course, nobody can prohibit Kim Jong-pil from running for president. He probably wishes to dispel the notion that he is the eternal runner-up. In fact, there are few persons with experience in politics to match Mr. Kim's. Anybody has a right to be chosen by the people, and Mr. Kim is one of the politicians most likely to be.

At the same time the talk of his becoming the presidential candidate reflects the difficulties that Kim Jong-pil and the ULD are facing. Provincial elections are scheduled in June next year, and if they rule out the possibility of Mr. Kim's becoming president, they will find it hard to win votes in Chungchong province, Mr. Kim's constituency base. In the political jungle, showing a trace of weakness will, first of all, lead to disunity among ULD members.

But it is uncomfortable to watch Kim Jong-pil and the ULD's presidential scheme. The presidential election is still one year and four months away. Mr. Kim is in a different position from other potential candidates from the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, who must raise their name recognition in a short period of time. His going for the presidency also contradicts his long-held support for a cabinet system.

Mr. Kim would be 78 years old at the time of his swearing-in if he were elected the next president of South Korea. We should not discriminate against him for his age, but having an elderly head of the state is certainly not a global trend. For instance, U.S. President George W. Bush is 54, and Russia's Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair, the British prime minister, are both 48.

One of Kim Jong-pil's frequent expressions is, "Politics should not make people uneasy."

Many civic groups and influential figures are issuing statements concerning serious disparities existing in society. But politicians do nothing to address the problems. The ULD and Kim Jong-pil should focus their efforts on gathering and consolidating divided public opinion. It will be more effective to show what they are working on now than insisting on what they want to be in the future.


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The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon

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