[NOTEBOOK]Political experiments can be riskyA pioneer spirit is the motivating force in social development. There have been numerous political pioneering experiments this year, and several of them are still going.
Park Geun-hye, chairman of the Korean Coalition for the Future, is the first to be such a pioneer. In February, Ms. Park quit the Grand National Party when her demands to introduce a primary to nominate the presidential candidate and a group leadership were not accepted. She is not running for the presidency on her own, but her defection served as a catalyst to change the belief that the public's choice for Korea's next president has been decided. Lee Hoi-chang, the presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, accepted Ms. Park's demands and Rhee In-je lost the Millennium Democratic Party's primary to name a presidential candidate.
Political experiments by the MDP's presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun started in early March. He won his party's primary to name a presidential candidate. He was supported by a group known as Nosamo (People who Love Roh Moo-hyun), the first full-fledged fan club for a politician. Because he swept the primary like a typhoon, his sudden advent was dubbed "Rohphoon." But Mr. Roh's popularity cooled rapidly after his visit with former President Kim Young-sam, the symbol of Korea's old politics. Mr. Roh's supporters were disgusted to see him put on a wristwatch presented by Mr. Kim when he was the president. The candidate also demanded that the former president remove a close aide, the legislator Park Chong-ung, from the GNP and make him run for mayor of Busan under the MDP banner. Mr. Roh's actions invited voter contempt and he was blasted for not being different from existing politicians. Mr. Roh only began voicing his convictions in September.
Kwon Young-ghil, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, wants to be the first member of a progressive party to be elected to the Blue House, a meaningful political experiment in Korea's history. Winning the election does not seem to be foremost in the mind of Mr. Kwon, his party or supporters. But his polling results are significant. The Democratic Labor Party has a dream: It aims to elect lawmakers to the National Assembly in 2004 and become a bargaining group in the Assembly in 2008. "No progressive party has ever become the ruling party by chance," said Mr. Kwon, adding that he would stack the "bricks of progress" one by one.
Politicians are attentive to the experiment of independent presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon. He has gained instant attention of voters by successfully staging the World Cup. Mr. Chung has said that he would abolish the central party system that runs nationwide branches, and instead organize a party focusing on parliamentary activities. In the middle of August, Mr. Chung turned down an offer to form a new party with former Prime Minister Lee Han-dong and lawmakers Rhee In-je and Cho Boo-young, saying that it was against the wishes of the people. He disallowed dissident lawmakers from joining him saying that he does not want traitors. But he recently agreed to launch a four-party coalition with the conservative United Liberal Democrats, Mr. Lee and dissident MDP lawmakers. However, when ULD lawmakers were opposed to the alliance and several dissident MDP loyalists showed signs of pulling back, he said that he would launch a party of his own.
Recent events show Mr. Chung's dilemma. Mr. Chung is afraid that his popularity will fade if he fails to attract lawmakers to his side. But his supporters will leave him once he acts against his principles. That has been the case for Mr. Roh, whose popularity dropped after his visit with former President Kim Young-sam. Mr. Chung wants to generate new politics, but he does not have political influence to back his convictions. Mr. Chung recently said that the most important thing in politics is one's original intentions. He must make a choice in a situation in which he cannot ignore his dreams or ignore reality. It is up to the people to judge his choice.
The writer is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo