[INSIGHT]Time for political housecleaning

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[INSIGHT]Time for political housecleaning

Korea’s political leadership seems to be falling into an abyss. It will be virtually impossible for it to survive in its present tattered state, where its morality is ruined by critical damage. The president has admitted that the red light has been turned on regarding the moral trust of of his leadership as a result of the corruption scandals involving his close aides. There is hardly a politician whose hands are clean of illegal campaign funds and corruption. The present political leadership of Korea has neither the ability nor the authority to lead the people right now. How could the lawmakers ask the people to obey the laws when they themselves break them?
To put it dramatically, our political leaders are nothing but criminal suspects and potential criminal suspects in the public’s eyes. Everyone seems to have dirty secrets that they are hiding. Even President Roh Moo-hyun could be alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal of Choi Do-sul, his former aide. Lee Hoi-chang, who ran against Mr. Roh in last year’s presidential election for the Grand National Party, could also be facing allegations in a similar scandal involving his campaign manager. The party leaders who hoarded and distributed these illegal campaign funds and the National Assembly members who received this money are all suspects and potential suspects.
That is not all. Several leaders are already facing allegations of corruption on a personal basis. Numerous politicians are found to have received money from Hyundai, SK, Nara Merchant Bank and Goodmorning City Co. There are so many politicians who received bribes from these businesses that it is hard to remember all their names. In short, our politics has become a “ruined castle ground.” The ruined castle ground that is sung about in an ancient song at least had remnants of patriotism. There is only the stench of corruption in today’s politics. The revelation of bribes from Hyundai and SK has already left the entire political sector in chaos. How much worse would the situation get if it is revealed that other firms had also provided “campaign funds?” Every time the prosecution uncovers another firm, a part of the political sector dies. How many more revelations are left?
This cannot go on any longer. It is time we seriously consider how to revive our fallen politics and reform the political leadership of Korea. No matter how much confessing and purging of sins take place and how many political reforms occur, there can never be a different and new politics if the same faces and same parties remain. The same politicians who have “corruption” written on their foreheads right now would run in the general elections talking about love for one’s country and, of course, clean politics. How could the public put its trust in such politics?
Only when the faces change can politics change. Only when the politicians are transformed can the parties become different and can we see a different and new form of politics. It is a mystery why none of the four parties is doing anything to seek new faces. Wouldn’t that be an obvious thing for them to do?
Of course, this “change of faces” should not be what was pursued by the three Kims ― Kim Dae-jung, Kim Jong-pil and Kim Young-sam ― as part of their election strategy, but rather genuine changes of the nature, image and flagship of the parties.
A change of party leadership should precede all else, with the introduction of new leaders who can pursue a new party and new politics. One might wonder where we could get such leaders but there are bound to be capable men and women somewhere. There are plenty of people who have led decent and diligent lives, gaining respect in their respective fields. They have merely been keeping out of politics because of the indifference of the already established politicians and the present state of chaos politics is in.
The Grand National Party especially is hesitating on whether to agree to Mr. Roh’s call for a vote of confidence because it has no alternative figure to put forward. Yet it has no plans to invite a new face to become party leader or a potential candidate. In the past, the Sinmin Party invited Yu Chin-o, a well-respected educator, as its presidential candidate to run against President Syngman Rhee. The current four parties should strongly consider following this example of inviting new figures to join and lead their parties and use such leverage to transform into new parties. There are no “stars” in our politics today. It is a shame that the Grand National Party still isn’t talking about backing a presidential candidate in his 40s when it has lost two presidential elections in a row. It is time for conscientious and ambitious individuals to step forward.
Another task that the political sector must perform is self-regulation. Vulgarity, incompetence, flattery and corruption must all go. Once the new faces are in place, the pesent party leadership should withdraw from the limelight. It goes without saying that structural reforms are necessary. But such reforms will not help if the faces don’t change first. One of the brilliant ideas of a “structural reform” was to require campaign funds to be given by check. The result? Loads of cash hidden in basements.
It is almost fortunate that the Choi Do-sul and Choi Don-woong scandals erupted. Otherwise, we would have let such corruption pass without knowing about it, and what a greater tragedy that would have been. Let us believe that every time such an incident happens, it is one more lesson for politics to improve on. Let’s hope that the recent events become an important lesson in creating a new Roh administration and a new political leadership.

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

by Song Chin-hyok
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