[INSIGHT]Korean politics is a blood feud

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[INSIGHT]Korean politics is a blood feud

Politics is, I think, a kind of entertainment industry. It should give dreams and hope to the people, the spectators, console those in pain and encourage others in despair. It should have the attraction of plot twists, in which politicians sometimes confront each other but sometimes overcome crises through exquisite negotiation and reconciliation. And there should be some message for viewers.

There is nothing like that in our politics now. We can only see conspiracy, betrayal, extreme revenge and sharp blades of swords. There is only a shady and dank murder scene in the bloody confrontational drama of the two confirmation hearings, the separation and gathering of a new party and the draft-dodging scandal. We cannot see any kind of negotiation or reconciliation. What makes things like this? Someone said that it is a transient, crippled phenomenon that will end the "three Kims" era of powerful bosses and usher in a new era. Others say that political power is the first aim of politics and the zero-sum fight for the presidency is natural.

I think political chaos starts from the functional relations of two fathers and four sons. President Kim Dae-jung resigned his membership in the Millennium Democratic Party and said he would quit political activities and take care of national administration. But he still has the power to control politics in Korea. Two sons of the president are now in jail. We tend to overlook that their situation is an unbearable pain for a normal father and an insufferable shame for the president. The sons' corruption ruined the father's Nobel prize glory and nullified his political achievements. The sons have shattered the Millennium Democratic Party's dream of winning the presidential election in December. They gave pain to their father and took away the political leader's hope.

It is hard to feel fully the pain and the grudge. When the son of President Kim Young-sam was sent to prison during his tenure, Mr. Kim called a former chief secretary at the Blue House and secretary-general of his party. The president was angry and minced no words. "For the sake of the country, they should have reconsidered sending the president's son to prison when the president is in power," he said. He meant that the action impaired his judgment and put the country in danger. Indeed, Mr. Kim and his administration botched the initial reaction to the Asian economic crisis that engulfed us in 1997.

However wonderful Kim Dae-jung is, and whatever strong leadership he wields, he also has his limits. Even if he may not himself want to push things to an "eye for an eye" mean-spirited confrontation, he has plenty of aides and associates who would be pushing him in that direction.

Another father and political leader is Lee Hoi-chang, the presidential candidate of the opposition Grand National Party. He lost the last presidential election in 1997 because of suspicions that his two sons dodged the draft. Now he is being driven to the edge of the cliff, saying he would withdraw his presidential candidacy if the suspicions are proved. Five years of struggle went by, and another chance came, but his support is unstable because the same suspicions have been raised again. He asked for an impartial and full investigation by the prosecution, but a man who has, Mr. Lee believes, a political interest in turning those suspicions into an indictment stays at his post after a new justice minister is named.

Of course there is a difference between the sons of the president and Mr. Lee's sons. The president's sons are now in jail accused of taking bribes, and Mr. Lee's sons are only the subject of rumors. But it is the same in the fury and the unyielding spirit that have been unleashed. So the Grand National Party has no choice but to push toward a bloody political situation like opposition to the president's choices for prime minister and the proposal to dismiss the justice minister. The political leader, the other political axis in Korea, became an incarnation of fury that is running blindly to confrontation with a thirst for "eye for an eye" vengeance.

The two political leaders fight with an unyielding spirit and the political battle is bloody. The spirit stems from two sons in prison and two others under suspicion, and may be inevitable because of the basic emotions of a father for his son. But where are the people in all this? Is it acceptable that politics has become a mess and the country is riven amid the two fathers' bloody fight over pride? Of course not!

There is no other solution but that the two leaders regain their reason. The president should stop talking about politics and manage the nation peacefully and rationally until the end of his term. He has to stop tinkering with the prosecution and allow it to investigate the draft-dodging allegations fairly and properly, and wait for the results. Mr. Lee also should show the tolerance that could lead these chaotic politics into negotiation and reconciliation. Support for him will remain shaky if he does not show the virtue of tolerance.

In order to avoid being recorded by future generations as the political leaders who made the political world a living hell, the two leaders have to show the virtues of tolerance and endu-rance. That is the only way that this country can survive.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kwon Young-bin

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