[EDITORIALS]The losers' agendaLee Hoi-chang, the defeated presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, shed tears flowing with deep regret and despondency. "I ask for forgiveness for the defeat wrought because of my lack of virtue and incompetence," he told his mournful supporters. "I admit and concede my defeat, and I congratulate President-elect Roh Moo-hyun," he added. Mr. Lee's concession had a freshness unseen before in Korean politics where the art of losing was the art of grudge-holding and revenge. In announcing, "I will completely retire from politics," he has laid the groundwork for an election culture where fair play is the rule of the game.
Retirement is inevitable for the two-time contender, two-time loser. Moreover, his exit from politics signals a passing of his style of politics. Until a month ago, the mantra of "Lee Hoi-chang for President" seemed like an all-consuming wave, but it collapsed in the people's desire to do away with "old politics." He failed to read the passionate desire for change in politics among those in their 20s and 30s, and was unprepared, eventually yielding the lead he had held over his rival. His campaign strategy of appealing to the voters to vote retrospectively on the "corrupt" Kim Dae-jung administration backfired, and his trademark calls for the rule of law and principle staggered against the mounting call for a change in politics. Mr. Lee's defeat stems from his failure to filter and reinterpret the prevailing sentiment of the times into his own leadership vision. That should be a strong lesson to political leaders, who have to change with the times. Mr. Lee also failed to properly decode the aspiration of his core supporters, the conservative voters in their late 40s who viewed the election as a critical point for the country. They were serious about the ideological differences between the candidates, but Mr. Lee did not grasp the urgency of their concerns and sent out mixed messages, especially about North Korea, in his campaign. He perhaps realizes that, as he said, "I fell short."
With a leadership vacuum, these are uncertain times for the Grand National Party. Mr. Lee's departure may well crack the party into pieces and perhaps disintegration. The party's defeat will no doubt enforce in the minds of the public that it belongs to the anachronistic, change-resistant old guard. The party must now restructure itself into a sound conservative party that is open to the changes in the electorate, just as Mr. Lee asked the party to do. A new breed of politicians, an agenda of change and a new energy should dominate the party. It could do nothing worse than to entangle itself in a power struggle as Mr. Lee leaves. The party may have lost to the Millennium Democratic Party in setting an agenda for political reform and promoting a new image, but that is all the more reason for the party to implement political reforms. By doing so it can regain public attention and support and political influence.
The Grand National Party is still the majority in the National Assembly. It lost the election and the Blue House, but it still towers over the Millennium Democratic Party. The duties of the majority party are unchanged, and the future of the new administration depends on bipartisan cooperation and support. It should shake off its defeat, cooperate with the winner to develop a national consensus, and check the administrative branch when necessary. It also must develop sound policies for handling North Korean and national welfare issues.