[OUTLOOK]Handshakes the people demand

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[OUTLOOK]Handshakes the people demand

This year's presidential election has taken on the form of a fight between one big candidate and two middle-tier ones. And the pursuit of a joint candidacy by the two middle-tier ones in this already confusing presidential campaign is making the political scene even more chaotic. This is primarily because the two middle-tier candidates, Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon, are constantly changing the principles of the union on which they have bet their political lives, regardless of their political causes or loyalties.

At the same time, politicians with an adventurous tendency are flying back and forth between the one big candidate and the two middle-tier ones or just between the two middle-tier ones, still undecided.

Lacking any political philosophy or conviction, these roaming politicians are trying to find which side is more advantageous to them in the 2004 National Assembly elections. They are calculating their possible gains and losses and following the candidates' poll numbers, the fickleness of which makes them change their minds constantly.

It is not the purpose of this column to criticize the significance or the necessity of the pursuit of a unified candidacy or to doubt the sincerity of the two candidates in question. Realistically speaking, there is no more appropriate and efficient measure for two middle-tier candidates than to join hands to oppose the top candidate. There are cases in history in which the convergence of two candidates into a single candidacy was the people's will and the symbol of the fight for democracy. Certainly, quite a few Koreans are nostalgic for such joint candidacies.

It is important, however, to remember that a unified candidacy will only gain support from the public if it is pursued to fortify the identity of the chosen candidate. Otherwise, the candidates will find the stern judgment of the people awaiting them.

The joining of hands by Ho Chong and Yun Po-son in the 1963 presidential election and the teaming up of Yu Chin-o and Yun Po-son in the 1967 election are highly evaluated. These two mergers had been formed in accordance with the wishes of the people who wanted to prevent a military government from emerging, and because of the goal to restore a civilian government the identity of the candidates became stronger. Although neither candidate won the election, they could pride themselves on being the "spiritual presidents" of the country.

There was one case that did not work out as well. Shortly before the presidential election in 1987, public pressure was placed on two candidates, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, to join hands. At the time, it was imperative for the two Kims to work together to topple the military government and the majority of the people wanted to see this union happen. In the end, however, Kim Young-sam found common ground with Paek Ki-wan instead of his longtime rival, Kim Dae-jung.

Needless to say, such a disregard for public opinion led to the defeat of both Kims. By rejecting the opinion of the people that they should unite, the two showed that the "democratization" that both of them had exhorted as their own trademark was nothing but an empty slogan and both men had to announce their retirement from politics -- moves that turned out to be temporary.

We can find a lesson in these two contrasting forms of candidacy convergence. People want convergence of similar candidates and will give their active support to such. However, a merger of a candidacy that does not live up to the people's expectations will meet cold criticism.

The convergence of candidacies that the two middle-tier candidates are pursuing at present seems to be far from establishing an identity and not too deserving of any praise. Their convergence lacks any clear reason or identity that could persuade the people to put trust in their words.

The first thing these two candidates must do to earn the support of the people is to not pay attention to the polls nor collect legislators to expand their influence. But each should reveal his identity clearly and look for the best way to meet the people's expectations after an objective evaluation of which of their policies coincide and which diverge.

Without such a process, the unified stance these two are pursuing will become nothing but an illicit liaison bred of political ambitions, and once the election is over, they might have to kiss their political careers good-bye.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University.

by Shim Ji-yeon

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