[FOUNTAIN]Big shoes to be filledHe was a man of passion and spirit, with big, bright eyes, a cheerful voice and a bow tie. For younger Koreans, he may be an unfamiliar historical figure. But Yuseok Cho Byoung-ok (1894-1960), the leader of the Democratic Party, fought from 1956 to 1960 against the Liberal Party regime of then President Syngman Rhee.
During the Japanese occupation, Cho Byoung-ok was imprisoned twice for five years for activities in the Gwangju Democratic Movement, Shinganhye Movement (reform drive) and Hung Sa Dan (Young Korean Academy.)
His motto was to value country above the party, the party above the person.
Facing the 1958 election to the National Assembly, “An open letter to President Lee Seung-man,” which he wrote, is said to have made President Lee shiver.
“Mr. President, you bite people like a horse, you yoke people like an ox and when they do not obey government policy, you whip people with the terror of police and the politics of threats. And when the opposition leaders give a critical speech, you halt them by force . . .”
In the half-century history of Korea’s opposition party, there were leaders of tenacity, such as Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, who reached the top. But Cho was a figure of misfortune; he ran for president in 1960 but suddenly died of a heart attack only one month before the election. Tracing the path of Cho, it is found that, when the fate of the country was at stake, he was quick and decisive to transform to a national leader from an opposition leader. For example, the Lee regime passed the national security reform bill in a sham by mobilizing police to suppress the opposition party and the media, and that was such a crisis in democracy that even the United States weighed in against it. Though factional disputes were severe in opposition politics, his politics featured broad-mindedness and kindness that equally distributed party positions and political funds to rival factions.
Choe Byung-yul, the new chairman of the Grand National Party, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, “I would like to follow the politics of Yuseok Cho Byoung-ok.” By the way, on June 30, the unveiling ceremony of a statue of Yuseok was held at Kwacheon Seoul Grand Park. It is important to note how Mr. Choe, the new leader of the opposition, will understand and practice the politics of Yuseok Cho Byoung-ok.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.