[TODAY]Shadows flutter at politics' edge

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[TODAY]Shadows flutter at politics' edge

On Dec. 26, 1988, thousands of Hyundai Heavy Industries workers who were in the second week of a strike heard Democratic Party legislator Roh Moo-hyun tell them at their Ulsan plant, "The law is to be upheld only when it is just. We must fight until the workers of this country gain the respect they deserve as human beings." He went on, "Prosecutors, judges and the law are powerless before the Hyundai Group." Hyundai Heavy Industry denounced Mr. Roh for inciting the workers further and making labor-management negotiations even more difficult.

Hyundai Heavy Industries, incidentally, was and still is owned by Chung Mong-joon, now a presidential candidate. At a National Assembly hearing in July1988, Mr. Roh told witnesses from the government, "The jaebeol must be dismantled. The government should buy the shares that the jaebeol heads and their families own and distribute them to the laborers."

Mr. Chung is the poster boy of the second generation of South Korean jaebeol families and is directly in Roh Moo-hyun's line of fire. The two mix like oil and water.

Mr. Roh graduated from a commercial high school where students are trained for industrial jobs. He worked as a laborer while preparing for the national bar examination and becoming a human rights lawyer.

Mr. Chung is a "prince" from a jaebeol family, came out of elite schools in both South Korea and the United States and easily won a seat in the National Assembly by running in Ulsan, the heartland of his family's Hyundai Group. He has been re-elected three times.

Mr. Roh stands left of center ideologically while Mr. Chung stands quite right of center. Chung Mong-joon is closer to the conservative Grand National Party candidate Lee Hoi-chang than to Mr. Roh.

Ignoring these differences, a flock of geese has fled the Millennium Democratic Party and wants to put the two men together. The flock, however, is just the shadow of something real; those calling for a united front are being controlled by forces whose imperative for presidential election strategy is ABC ?anyone but Chang ?namely they do not care who is elected president as long as it is not Lee Hoi-chang.

When Mr. Roh was riding high in the party's primary elections, he was the fair-haired boy of the anti-Lee strategy. But once Chung Mong-joon had begun to outstrip Mr. Roh in voter popularity polls, the shadowy masterminds decided that they need to back another horse if they want to stop Lee Hoi-chang from becoming president.

In the fast-changing currents of a presidential election campaign, what was good yesterday could become evil today. The very people who praised the Millennium Democratic Party's primary to nominate a presidential candidate in the spring now attack it as having been rigged. This might seem like a clever way of tricking the people, but the producers of the shadow play are digging their own graves.

While the shadow play is being performed in the downtown theater, we hear rumors that a smaller theater away from the lights will soon be staging a comedy of reconciliation starring Kim Jong-pil and Rhee In-je.

In early 2000, Mr. Rhee compared Mr. Kim to the sun setting on a western mountain. The rising sun, of course, was Rhee In-je, at least according to Mr. Rhee. Mr. Kim's reply to Mr. Rhee when he heard about that metaphor was, "Become a human first." Now it seems that the setting sun and the rising sun will try to get together for a losers' comeback.

The term "single candidate" is a political code word. Mr. Roh and Mr. Chung would interpret it as meaning, "I'll be the candidate, so why don't you step down nicely?"

But those behind the curtains seem to decode it as, "Chung Moon-joon is the one who can beat Lee Hoi-chang, so why don't you, Roh Moo-hyun, step down nicely?" Dancing to this tune, the former Millennium Democratic Party members who have bolted their party are scrambling for shelter, including in the Grand National Party and National Unity 21, Mr. Chung's party.

The traditional shadow plays of Indonesia are called wayang, and usually tell of the heroic acts of princes. The dalangs, the puppetmasters, of this 21st-century wayang in Korean politics are carefully hidden, but we all have a hunch about who they are.

There is only one thing to tell them: "Play all you want. We'll see on election day."

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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