[FORUM]Corruption and repentanceLee Hoi-chang looks small. He is short but looks even tiny. He ran out of political funds called “rule by law and correctness.” Such big words, his ambition for national leadership and a will to win power seem not to have suited him from the beginning. Instead, he gets derision and cynical gazes for having received campaign funds in a truck. Such is the fate of the former chairman of the Grand National Party.
Remorse and heartbreak left him sleepless. In his confession last December, he said he was responsible for the illegal funds and would go to prison. But his heroic resolution of political martyrdom was empty. No such scene followed and his real intentions are still unknown. The prosecution isn’t investigating him. He cannot go to prison even if he wants to. This is the situation of a loser in the power struggle. He was naive about power if he believed he could go to jail as he wished. The Roh Moo-hyun administration may not have wanted him to be punished. If he went to prison, it would only stir up the public’s sympathy. If President Roh is not investigated, he will be entangled in controversy over political revenge. Sympathy is powerful in directing public opinion. With the legislative elections near, anything that raised sympathy for Mr. Lee would be a problem for the administration.
One of the driving forces of Mr. Roh’s politics is sympathy. The ordinary Korean sentiment is to hate the strong and pity the weak. Behind the groups of people who love Mr. Roh lies sympathy. President Roh explains that his harsh expressions of discontent against the media are a defense of the weak against the strong. He seems to understand the delicate destructive power of sympathy, which works the moment people are divided into the strong and the weak. He will never let such sympathy move toward Mr. Lee and the opposition party.
After the presidential election, Mr. Lee went to Stanford University in the United States. After the 1992 presidential election, the loser, Kim Dae-jung, went to England to study. But Kim Young-sam believed that he had fled because he feared the prosecution’s investigation. Kim Young-sam said he didn’t investigate Kim Dae-jung’s wrongdoings out of a winner’s generosity.
Whatever the truth, it is idle to talk about a winner’s tolerance or a loser’s remorse. We can’t avoid the mud the presidential election generated. The corrupt pillars of politics are collapsing. If Mr. Lee can’t go to prison, he should find other ways of repenting. If the Baekdamsa temple, where former President Chun Doo Hwan exiled himself, does not suit him, a Catholic, he should find a similar place to show his repentance.
The structure of political corruption should be corrected. But politics should not only be engaged in clearing up its own corruption, but should also suggest solutions for youth unemployment, the downfall of the middle class, chaotic education and the turbulent situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. The ruling and opposition parties should not compete only to eradicate corruption.
The opposition party can create impressive politics when it acts as it should. It should offer systematic criticisms and alternatives on government policies, not exposures or struggles. It should establish a sound identity as a conservative party. Now it is too preoccupied with corruption scandals to remember its genuine identity. Politics is swayed by civic groups because of the party’s dark, corrupt past. Civic groups’ excessive intervention in politics will also produce side effects, undermining spontaneous compromise and dialogue in politics.
Lee Hoi-chang is unfamiliar with resolutions. But he should now choose to confess to put politics, stuck in corruption, in its rightful place.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon