[TODAY]Roh missed a chance for daylight

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[TODAY]Roh missed a chance for daylight

In 1987, President Chun Doo Hwan told the Democratic Justice Party's presidential candidate, Roh Tae-woo, that he could "step on him" if necessary during his campaign for the office, despite the fact that Mr. Roh was Mr. Chun's political heir and military buddy.

Mr. Roh managed to pacify the social unrest of June 1987 triggered by comments of President Chun threatening to use force to defend "the constitutional order." He announced on June 29 that he would accept direct presidential elections and called for a full investigation into allegations of corrupt dealings by the president's family members. Mr. Roh went on to defeat two opposition leaders, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. Mr. Roh "stepped on" his predecessor over and over again until Mr. Chun finally went into a two-year exile at Baekdam Temple in a remote part of Gangwon province.

"Proceed by stepping on me." Mr. Chun's resolute words call to mind the fumie icons, Christian images used in 17th century Japan in a persecution of Christians. The suspected Christians were made to step on the image as a test of their hatred for Christianity. Stepping on the image meant the death of one's conscience. Refusing to step on the image meant the death of one's physical body. The moral dilemma of the fumie test was a psychological torture for Christian believers in the Nagasaki and Unzen areas.

The "anti-DJ" election strategy that the Millennium Democratic Party presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun is pondering is a modern-day political fumie. Public support for President Kim Dae-jung and the Millennium Democratic Party has hit bottom. With all three of his sons involved or allegedly involved in corruption cases and the recent naval fight in the Yellow Sea with the North Koreans, President Kim has become a heavy burden for the Millennium Democratic Party's candidate. The crushing defeat of the party in last month's local elections seemed to signal the death of the "Roh-phoon" that took the nation by surprise in the party primaries at the beginning of the year.

As of now, Mr. Roh's election strategy will need to include maintaining a certain distance from President Kim, negating certain parts of the incumbent president's policies, publicly denouncing the president's three sons and their corrupt actions and demanding the resignation of Kim Hong-il, the president's first-born son and MDP legislator, from the party.

Will Mr. Roh succeed in reaching his goal by trampling on President Kim? He may not be able to, for two reasons. First, Mr. Roh has lost the best chance to start his strategy; the right time would have been right after the allegations against the three sons exploded. Mr. Roh's lukewarm response to the scandal cost his party votes in the local elections.

Second, Mr. Roh has no supporting force to back him up. In contrast, Roh Tae-woo had the formidable structure of his Democratic Justice Party and the full support -- including campaign funds -- from President Chun to rely on. In addition, Mr. Chun volunteered to become the fumie.

In the 1992 presidential election, the ruling party candidate, Kim Young-sam, also quibbled constantly with President Roh; there was one major clash over a telecommunications project given to a company Mr. Roh favored. Mr. Roh responded to Mr. Kim's attacks, made with the intention to widen the distance between them, by resigning from the party. But Mr. Kim was fortunate enough to find other powers willing to join hands with him and succeeded in raising a campaign war chest without Mr. Roh's help.

The distance between the incumbent president and a presidential candidate is a critical factor in election results. In the U.S. presidential election of 2000, the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, refused the help of President Bill Clinton, whose reputation was hurt by several scandals. But Mr. Gore lost in several important Democratic strongholds, including Mr. Clinton's home state of Arkansas, and ended up handing the seat to George Bush. The fumie strategy is only effective for a candidate who shares the same party with the incumbent president and when the president is at the worst point of his tenure.

Looking at the results, Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam succeeded in distancing themselves from their predecessors and won, while Lee Hoi-chang failed to do so in the last election and lost.

Besides bad timing, Mr. Roh also lacks the faith to distance himself from the president except as a political move. What does Mr. Roh accept and what does he reject of Mr. Kim's? Mr. Roh should contemplate why Machiavelli separated politics from ethical judgments.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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