[VIEWPOINT]Hate-filled politicians run amok

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[VIEWPOINT]Hate-filled politicians run amok

The most prominent characteristic of Korean politics these days is the hatred it generates. This phenomenon has bred hostility between political parties and their supporters on a scale never seen before. Now this hatred has come to a boiling point with the Millennium Democratic Party's allegations that Grand National Party leader Lee Hoi-chang's son evaded military service, the rejection of two prime minister designates in a row and the partisan contention over a bill to dismiss Minister of Justice Kim Jung-kil, whom the Grand National Party alleges compromised the draft-dodging investigation.

Contention has always been an element in politics, of course, but it has gone beyond healthy limits here because politics has always played a dominant role in our society. This obsession with politics has raised the stakes to extraordinary heights and created a political culture of "winner take all" in an imperial presidential system. But we should note that even in the dark days under the military dictatorship, we never saw the politics of hatred take over society as completely as it has now. Traditional power-holders, represented by the GNP, are out to regain the power they lost in the last presidential election while the MDP has a deep-rooted belief that it will be the end of them if they let their hard-earned power slip away. During the military dictatorships, the line between the morally good and evil were clear, giving no ground for hate-filled politics to grow. After democratization, the leaders of our society lost this moral superiority and corruption scandals flourished.

Under such circumstances, it may be only too natural that the presidential election takes on a life-or-death form, but the situation could have been avoided if the latest cabinet had been assembled correctly. When the MDP's presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun suggested forming a neutral cabinet, President Kim ignored his suggestion. The president even let cabinet members found to have been involved in his son's bribery scandal stay on. He even replaced the minister of justice despite the impression that action gave of a retaliation against the investigation into his son's affairs, and renamed Kim Jung-kil as minister of justice.

Had the president listened to Mr. Roh, we could have at least avoided this confrontation over the National Assembly's move to dismiss him. It is a pity, indeed. Justice Minister Kim kept the chief investigator of the draft-dodging allegations at his post despite demands to replace him from both the Grand National Party and from within the prosecutors office, which reacted in favor of moving the chief investigator after an MDP legislator, Lee Hae-chan, disclosed that he had been asked to raise the issue at the Assembly. Judging from Minister Kim's actions, one could understand what the president had in mind when he decided to name Mr. Kim as justice minister a second time, risking critical public opinion and refusing to accommodate Mr. Roh's advice.

The rejection of two prime minister designates was also a cause of contention that could have been avoided. Had the president acted on Mr. Roh's advice, he would have sought the Grand National Party's cooperation and a public consensus in forming a neutral cabinet, and this misfortune would not have happened. Unfortunately, President Kim seems to have chosen to follow not Mr. Roh's advice but a "go it alone" policy of keeping his crippled administration packed with loyalists. Needless to say, that tactic has wrought more conflict and contention.

Now it seems too late. No matter what comes out of the bill of dismissal of Minister Kim, the prosecutors' investigations into the draft-dodging allegations, or the presidential election in December, the losers will never accept the results and hate-filled politics will continue. What is most frustrating is the central issue of this conflict, the allegations of draft-dodging by Lee Hoi-chang's son, is a legal matter that should be solved by legal processes, not a political matter that must include compromise and negotiations. We cannot expect a Solomonic solution of this issue to lower the level of hatred. We can only hope that the parties and person involved show self-restraint and avoid further disasters.

President Kim should take Mr. Roh's advice of an open door strategy in selecting the next prime minister candidate and in other aspects of government administration, while the GNP and the MDP should also try to compromise and compete with each other in a spirit of goodwill.

The situation is complicated and entangled, making it difficult to judge what is correct and what is not. The public should keep their eyes open and watch carefully how events proceed in order to distinguish between right and wrong.


The writer is a professor of political science at Sogang University.

by Sonn Ho-chul

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