Political maverick refuses to stay quietWhen Kim Hong-shin, a novelist-turned-lawmaker, asked for a special session at the National Assembly on Dec. 9, his fellow Grand National Party legislators did not give him a hearty welcome. After years of going against the conservative Grand National Party, Mr. Kim was a virtual pariah.
When Mr. Kim started his speech, however, the hard-liners fell silent. It was a surprise announcement of his resignation.
Beginning with his poem titled “Karma,” Mr. Kim read his five-page letter of resignation and stepped down from the platform. A few lawmakers, mostly from other parties, stood up to shake hands with him before he walked out of the National Assembly.
That was the last day he wore a golden badge of a lawmaker, which had been hanging on his suit for eight years.
On his way home, Mr. Kim passed by a banner that said, “Making the country stronger and the world better,” the party’s mission statement, created by Mr. Kim himself. After more than a month, the party replaced the banner with one that said, “Saving the economy.”
Mr. Kim has taken up his pen and ink again at his office in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul. When he greets guests, he says, “Sorry, but I don’t have a name card anymore.”
He does not need one. In the late 1980s, Mr. Kim, now 57, sold more than 5 million copies of his bestseller, “Ingan Sijang” (A Human Fair), a collection of short stories. Through the lead character, Jang Chong-chan, which is a pun meaning “with a rifle ready,” Mr. Kim criticized the current state of society. Every character, except for the lead, in “A Human Fair” is based on Mr. Kim’s experiences.
“A Human Fair” was also made into a popular TV drama. At the time, publishers called the book “the biggest-selling book since the establishment of the Korean alphabet.” Mr. Kim, however, did not welcome the success, saying that the brisk sales meant “people are not happy with the times.” He still thinks people are dissatisfied.
Other people seem to agree with him, and they’re getting ready to capitalize on the public sentiment. The TV network SBS came up with an adaptation of his novel, “The New Human Fair,” which will come out in March. The publishers of the original novel are planning to print a second edition.
Mr. Kim, in the meantime, is ready to produce sequels. “After what I’ve gone through in political circles, I’m ready to write at least 10 volumes of books,” Mr. Kim said Monday.
Mr. Kim’s other books included provocative titles such as “Mr. President, Get Back to Your Senses!”; “People Up There These Days;” and “A Mess.”
“Politics and literature are all parts of humanity, closely related to each other,” he says.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Kim was involved in the civilian movement group Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, which earned him a reputation as a social critic.
When Chun Doo Hwan’s military regime ruled in the 1980s, Mr. Kim’s books were censored before publication. Mr. Kim was accustomed to answering calls from the intelligence agency ordering him to change what he wrote.
The ascension of Kim Young-sam, a former democratic activist, to the Blue House in 1993 only added to the author’s frustrations because the new administration continued to censor publications.
In a radio program that he hosted, Mr. Kim said, “This is not a democratic country,” mentioning the censorship. As a result, he was forced to quit the job with the radio station.
To the disillusioned Mr. Kim, other political leaders, including Kim Dae-jung, started to give their support, which the writer used to propel himself into politics.
“I was far from getting overly excited to enter politics,” Mr. Kim said. “It felt like I was going down into a swamp of mud.”
In 1996, he became a lawmaker of the Grand National Party. Instead of running an election in a local electorate, Mr. Kim got the golden badge by benefiting from the proportional representation system.
From then on, Mr. Kim distinguished himself from the typical lawmaker who was more interested in political strife than in the people’s livelihood. Called the No. 1 lawmaker by many civilian groups, Mr. Kim made a name for himself as a trustworthy statesman.
He championed many causes such as abused disabled children, which he discovered with a good amount of research. Kim Hak-jun, a former aide at Kim Hong-shin’s office, said, “To work for Kim Hong-shin was a privilege. He was different from most of the lawmakers in his mannerisms.”
It was no surprise when he won re-election in 2000. Back then, the conservative Grand National Party backed Mr. Kim, who called then-President Kim Dae-jung a liar and said, “We need an industrial sewing machine [to block his mouth].”
After 2000, however, Mr. Kim started to go against the party platform. He was the only one who voted against the party on the issue of impeaching Kim Du-gwan, minister of government administration and home affairs, sending troops in Iraq and so on. He also said, “Voters in the last presidential election were great,” a statement of support of President Roh Moo-hyun, which was an unusual thing to say as an opposition party member.
“I just did what I felt was right,” Mr. Kim recalls. “After all, a lawmaker should do what is right for the people, not for the party.”
It’s no wonder that the party began to ostracize Mr. Kim. In September, the Grand National Party decided to suspend Mr. Kim’s rights as a member for eight months, which meant he could not get nominated for the 2004 elections.
Most local press showered him with praise as a rare lawmaker who was brave enough to act on his convictions. Others, however, say he stayed at the party only because he loved his title as a lawmaker.
Kim Hee-tae, an assistant director at the Grand National Party, flared up at the mention of Kim Hong-shin, whom he describes as a “shameless fellow.”
“If Kim Hong-shin did not like being with the party, why didn’t he just quit? He was simply afraid that he would lose his post,” the Grand National director says. “If he claims to be a novelist, then just write novels and stay away from politics.”
After hearing about the official’s reaction, Kim Hong-shin responded, “It’s irresponsible to quit the mission as a representative of the people.”
Since his resignation, political observers speculate that despite Mr. Kim’s stated desire for a break, he will return to politics eventually. Our Open Party is said to be greatly interested in adding Mr. Kim into their fold.
Kim Hee-tae with the Grand National Party said, “One of the former aides for Kim Hong-shin is now a nominee for Our Open Party, which is proof that Mr. Kim doesn’t want to leave politics.”
Mr. Kim, however, denies that. “I’m having second thoughts about going back into politics,” he says.
But he doesn’t rule out a future run. He left a room for that possibility, saying, “I’m taking time off, and there’s no argument that I should still be interested in politics, as a member of this country.”
by Chun Su-jin