[OUTLOOK]Elections, like lives, need balanceOver a month has passed since the presidential election, yet elections are still the talk of the town. One of the favorite topics is the clash of liberal vs. conservative in the election. Roh Moo-hyun's election was a win for the progressives, while Lee Hoi-chang's defeat spelled failure for the conservatives. There is also talk about how some die-hard conservatives have lost their appetites and suffer from insomnia due to shock.
These hardcore conservatives, for whom even watching television is an ordeal, are also said to have boosted the sales of soju, a Korean liquor that they drink to quell their frustrations and regrets over the election defeat.
But is that really the lesson of the election? Surveys had reported the neck-and-neck race between the two candidates throughout last year. Mr. Lee started the year with a 47 percent rate of support that fell to nearly 30 percent after the primary elections of the Millennium Democratic Party. Support for Mr. Roh, on the other hand, rose from 30 percent to over 50 percent. In May, some rash actions and words by Mr. Roh, including a visit to the highly unpopular but politically strong former President Kim Young-sam dropped Mr. Roh's popularity below 40 percent again, and the by-elections in June were a crushing defeat for Mr. Roh's party. Mr. Lee then held the lead in the polls until September. At one point, Mr. Lee believed that Chung Mong-joon was the bigger political threat, while Mr. Roh's poll standing fell to below 30 percent. There was strong movement within the Millennium Democratic Party to replace Mr. Roh as its candidate. After a long series of incidents, Mr. Roh in the end convinced Mr. Chung to drop out of the race and support him instead, and defeated Mr. Lee.
If the election had been about a clash of ideologies, the race would not have been such a roller-coaster ride. The ideological preference of a voter is not something that can be formed or changed in such a short span of time. Not all the people of the Honam region who voted for Mr. Roh were progressives, and not all the Yeongnam people who voted for Mr. Lee did so because they were conservatives.
It must be said that elections in our country are primarily influenced by which region the candidate comes from and what his or her public image is. Not much difference was found in the regional preferences of candidates in this election from the 1997 voting. Some claim that Yeongnam-born Roh Moo-hyun won 93 percent of the votes in Honam because regionalism was crumbling, but Mr. Roh represented the Millennium Democratic Party, the "Honam party."
It seems that the unprecedented importance of the media in this election left voters more influenced by the images consciously projected by the candidates and their aides rather than the ideology in their policies. This was especially so in the case of voters in their 20s and 30s, who seemed to have put more emotion into their voting. Many among those who avidly led the support groups for Mr. Roh cited the following reasons why they thought Mr. Lee was not cut out to be president: he just isn't right; both his sons didn't do their military duties; he looks cold; he seems too aristocratic and he's too old.
Mr. Roh, those young activists said, was young and looked like he could show something new; he looked like an ordinary man; he looked like he's had a rough life. If these answers are taken seriously, then it was Lee Hoi-chang the individual that lost to Roh Moo-hyun the individual in this race.
Although not the death of conservatism, the election results do not mean that conservatives are not seen as inflexible and corrupt. Conservatives must demonstrate that they can solve the problems of our society in a democratic manner as seekers of gradual reform in order to make a comeback.
Just as all things in the world are an interaction between yin and yang, conservatism and progressivism must compete with each other in a productive relationship that both benefit from. To seek either in excess would be to disrupt the harmony of society and drive it to the extremes. It is a rule of this world that a society driven to the extremes will crash and fall one day. Once again, we need to remind ourselves that we need both ideologies as a bird needs both its wings to fly.
* The writer, a former president publisher of the JoongAng Ilbo, is chairman of the Korean Association for Volunteer Efforts and a professor of mass communications at Sejong University.
by Geum Chang-tae