[OUTLOOK]Anybody but Lee? Voters decide

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[OUTLOOK]Anybody but Lee? Voters decide

Just why do the presidential candidates Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon want to join forces? To win the election. Is such a union bad? Not necessarily. Candidates need to win and if they can't do it on their own, then they must join hands to win. That's not so bad from the people's point of view either, because we get to see another preliminary before the main event. Whether by conducting surveys or drawing lots, the two candidates are going to hold a preliminary election between themselves before running for the presidency, and there is no reason to stop them from doing so. All we need to do is judge the final outcome with our one vote each. Nevertheless, something is not so satisfactory here. Should the candidates be allowed to run whenever they want to run and stop whenever they want to stop? Is such behavior good?

The Millennium Democratic Party should disband. How could a real political party conduct a so-called "historic" primary election, mobilizing tens of thousands of voters to select a candidate, then change that candidate based on the results of a poll of voters? Who would ever trust any candidate of the MDP even if it survived? The two candidates are taking their supporters lightly. To have two men of such different backgrounds, ideologies and policies join forces would leave their individual supporters at a loss. The world that Roh Moo-hyun seeks and the world that Chung Mong-joon outlines are two different worlds. How could they suddenly merge? Are the supporters supposed to merge as well because the candidates have done so? How could they ignore their supporters like that? This union is going to be a precedent, and if in every election there will be unjustifiable unions, will we have to witness the chaos and get disgusted over and over again?

Why are they so eager to merge, although they know it defies common sense and logic? The opposition claims the reason for the merger is Blue House pressure. Is it a conspiracy, and if so, who is behind it? The answer is simple: The driving force is anti-Lee Hoi-chang sentiment. Despite the numerous mistakes this administration has made, Mr. Lee's support is still in the 30-40 percent range, so that drove the union. Perhaps the two men have judged that anti-Lee sentiment runs deeper than any criticism of their tactics to oppose him. Even if they join, the thinking goes, the differences in ideology will be swamped by voter sentiment to find someone other than Mr. Lee. Overcoming those negative perceptions is Mr. Lee's burden, not the other candidate's.

The anti-Lee sentiment is mainly based on regionalism. Gyeongsang politicians and voters, upset with this Jeolla-based administration, are Mr. Lee's support base. But the rest of the country does not want to see a return to national politics as a fight between southerners, and the more Mr. Lee turns to Gyeongsang for votes, the wider the swath of anti-Lee sentiment will be elsewhere.

There is also an element of political revenge at play among politicians. They are desperate to win the election to avoid being the target of tax and criminal investigations, but the people just want to get on with their peaceful lives regardless of who is in office.

Some people also fear a return to the past. Reunification policies, for example, during the five years of the Kim Dae-jung administration have dramatically changed the ideological landscape. Some worry that Mr. Lee might ignore this reality and return to the policies of Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo. Policies have to be based on the present situation, and many people worry whether Mr. Lee will accept the changes in the situation. People worry because many of his supporters are from old political factions.

Finally, there are people who are simply disappointed that they cannot know what kind of a country, what kind of society will be formed after the election. What changes a new administration will make are unclear; no candidates have articulated a vision for the country. This is why voters under 40 are not showing much interest in the election campaign, which is more focused on scraping together supporters to boost approval ratings than on laying out competing policy visions.

The remaining month will be a competition between anti-Lee sentiment and the attempt to find a single candidate to stand against Mr. Lee. The most important variable is whether anti-Lee sentiment will die or rise. Even without a just cause, the move to find a single opponent to stand against Mr. Lee has awakened his Grand National Party.

* The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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