[FOUNTAIN]Good losersThroughout modern history, leaders have called for social unity during a transition period. President Charles de Gaulle of France and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, the latter credited for unifying East and West Germany, are good examples.
Two hundred years ago, when Thomas Jefferson was elected as U.S. president, he sent letters titled "Reconciliation and reform" to his countrymen. After a close contest -- Jefferson tied with Aaron Burr in electoral-college votes and was selected by the lower house -- he appealed for unity to heal social divisions and conflict.
The most impressive scene in U.S. presidential elections is when a loser openly concedes defeat to a winner. In 1860, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who defeated him in the presidential election, that cronyism should not come before patriotism and that he would support Mr. Lincoln.
Two years ago, former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote in the United States but lost in the electoral college to George W. Bush. After a Supreme Court ruling that favored Mr. Bush, he conceded the election, but both men's speeches during the period were marked with words like "harmony," "unity" and "impartiality."
In Korea, the tradition that a loser sends a congratulatory message to a winner after a presidential election began only 10 years ago. Until 1987, there had been endless disputes over abuses of government authority and corruption surrounding presidential elections. Social tensions mounted with no concessions of defeat. Reforms were delayed. In 1992, when Kim Dae-jung, then the candidate of the Party for Peace and Democracy, conceded defeat and offered his congratulations to his lifetime rival-comrade Kim Young-sam of the Democratic Liberal Party, it was a huge sensation. Lee Hoi-chang, the candidate of the Grand National Party, lost the presidential election in 1997 and said, "I will fully support and cooperate with President-elect Kim Dae-jung in overcoming the financial crisis." The gesture of harmony delighted the public.
Roh Moo-hyun, the Millennium Democratic Party candidate who won the presidency last Thursday, received congratulations and a concession from Lee Hoi-chang.
A smooth start and ultimate success in political reforms, as Mr. Roh says he wants, will depend on accommodating the defeated.
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.
by Choi Chul-joo