[VIEWPOINT]Step forward, all you politicians

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[VIEWPOINT]Step forward, all you politicians

Human beings have developed their way of living through innumerable inventions. Politics, religion and language are generally regarded as mankind's most distinguished innovations. But unfortunately, the misuse of politics has caused a huge stir in our country. People feel the bitterness of disillusion about politicians and do not trust them anymore. This has even led to general acceptance of a true absurdity: "A world without politics would be better," they say.

In the turbid stream of real politics, there is one person who has struggled to break out of the dirty circumstances he was in. He is Representative Kim Keun-tae, who made a declaration of conscience for clean politics. He confessed some time ago that he had accepted illegal political funds during the Millennium Democratic Party's August 2000 convention, whose purpose was to elect members of the party's supreme council.

People were bewildered by the confession. At first came astonishment: "How can such a politician exist in this country?" But after thinking about who the man is, people began to applaud. The applause was not only for Mr. Kim's conscience and courage that emboldened him to confess his political sins to the voters; it was also a demand by the people for confessions from other politicians.

But the deeply-felt applause was cruelly rejected by the rest of the political pack. As if to rub salt into his wounds, politicians turned on him, denigrating his motives. He was blasted by fellow legislators for "pretending that only he is clean" and making a "drastic last minute gesture to win votes." Far from being ashamed of the image in the mirror of their own wrongdoings, politicians cast a slur on Mr. Kim's intentions. His penance for clean politics was to become a victim of political ostracism. Witnessing such eyebrow-raising political realities, the people gave way to despair again.

Mr. Kim was ostracized in political circles, but that was not the end of the story. Because his confession was an admission that he violated the political fund law, he is now facing the possibility of an investigation by prosecutors. We are confronted by the contradiction that a just confession is in danger of drawing punishment while silent injustices remain untouched by the law. This absurdity is a Korea-specific tragedy.

Mr. Kim illuminated today's murky politics with the torch of confession. His genuine initiative for clean politics began during his political struggle in the 1980s. Among today's politicians, who has undergone more hardships than Mr. Kim during the fight for democracy in the 1980s?

He wanted to open a new era of Korean politics through straightforwardness, like a Catholic confession, empowered by the spirit of the '80s he embodied. Thanks to that reform spirit he cherishes, he is acknowledged as a frugal, modest, and less decayed politician in this country.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, any confessed sins are forgiven in the name of God. The developed countries, which we aspire to join, have laws to protect citizens' confessions. To protect an insider's exposure of lawbreaking is more helpful to society and a country than to punish it. Because whistle-blowing can forestall more wrongdoings, we should certainly protect citizens ?and especially legislators, who are the representatives of all citizens ?from punishment for doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, there is no such law in this country. Even so, Mr. Kim should not be punished under the political funds law. Such punishment would be the royal road to cultivating cowardly politicians and nourishing deep-rooted political depravity in this country. The prosecution should regard Mr. Kim's case as a chance to root out illegal political funds and as a stepping-stone for just politics.

The most important problem revealed in this incident is the politicians themselves. Political circles should not turn deaf ears to the people's voice. It is not too late ?we still have time. People now are waiting for confessions from all politicians, following the model of Representative Kim. Voters are ready to forgive, with a warm heart, the political sins they committed if they confess. In spite of our tolerance, we will continue to be bitterly sorrowful if we continue to see brazen, unscrupulous politicians.


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The writer is a novelist and professor at Dongguk University.

by Jo Jung-rae

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