[NOTEBOOK]The president’s sense of urgency

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[NOTEBOOK]The president’s sense of urgency

The degree of President Roh Moo-hyun’s participation in the April 15 National Assembly elections will be higher than that of any president in the past. Mr. Roh has been seized by a sense of urgency that he will become a “vegetable president” if the Grand National Party wins the majority of seats or Our Open Party fails to become the No. 1 or 2 party. Let’s take a look at the feelings that he has revealed from time to time.
First, the president is determined to mobilize all his supporters. He has publicly told pro-Roh forces to continue their “civil revolution” in the legislative elections as they had in the presidential election last year and vowed to “cause a stir.” He is full of enthusiasm, reportedly saying he wants to find out what the limits to a president’s participation in the elections are. His attitude is that he won’t heed criticism that his comments are inappropriate as the head of state.
He has also revealed his strategy. His comment that “if one votes for the Millennium Democratic Party, one would be helping the Grand National Party” was directed at the supporters of the Millennium Democratic Party. The more the former governing party makes an issue out of his words, the bigger the effect.
The president’s vow that he would step down should it be revealed that he had received more than one-tenth of what the Grand National Party received in illegal campaign funds was also meant to engrave his moral superiority over the opposition in people’s minds. The more the Grand National Party attacks this comment, the harder the blow will be on the president. But at the same time, it would also be reminding the public of the Grand National Party’s unethical behavior. The president would lose some, but the opposition would lose more.
All the predictable methods will be mobilized. Many high-ranking government officials will be let go at the reshuffling in February so that they can run in the elections. Several ministers and Blue House senior secretaries and aides are expected to run as candidates. Plans to isolate the Grand National Party in unison with civic groups have already started. Indirect campaigning by civic groups either to support or oppose certain candidates will ultimately all help President Roh.
The president could also try to play on the tension inside the Grand National Party caused by the investigation into presidential campaign funds and the procedure for nominating candidates. In order to downplay the Grand National Party’s campaign, the president is reportedly considering emphasizing “stability” in his new year press conference. Such moves already began through a partial cabinet reshuffle last year.
The Millennium Democratic Party is also a target. There are attempts to assign No. 2 in the order of political parties in the election to Our Open Party. This has the symbolic effect of aggregating the anti-Grand National Party votes. There have also been suggestions of using former President Kim Dae-jung in the present government’s relations with North Korea. The former president has declared that he would remain politically neutral but he still has a deep belief in his “sunshine policy.”
The core issue of the president’s participation in the elections is the president himself. He has not revoked his proposal for a vote of confidence in relation to allegations of corruption against his former aides. The comment from the Blue House senior secretary for political affairs Yoo In-tae that “President Roh does not hold much lingering desire for the presidential seat” has deep significance. This could mean that the president might actually stake his own presidency on the legislative elections because changing the political composition in the election is more important to him than his own presidency.
The president’s insistence that Our Open Party either become the No. 1 or 2 party is not only risky but also unpersuasive. There is talk about a one-person-two-vote system being applied in this legislative election in which one person can vote twice, once for the candidate and once for the party. If the system is indeed applied, perhaps the president can threaten to step down should Our Open Party not win the most votes as a party.
Whatever happens, the public, who must watch Mr. Roh make light of his presidency and wager everything on the elections, will suffer most. No criticism or advice seems to make him change his mind.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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