[OUTLOOK]Behind the mud, a real debate

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[OUTLOOK]Behind the mud, a real debate

The clash between the governing and opposition parties is intensifying. The Grand National Party leader, Park Geun-hye, is accusing President Roh Moo-hyun daily for being ambiguous about our national identity, while the Blue House and the Uri Party are attacking the dictatorship of Ms. Park’s father, President Park Chung Hee. Both are fighting desperately and this is only the beginning of the war. The transfer of the capital, colonial era collaborators, the repeal of the National Security Act and reform of the media are some of the issues on which the administration and the opposition are at odds. Legislators seem to be paying no attention to the crashing economy.
The argument has left the fundamental issues and become bickering and mudslinging. The people don’t want to hear who’s more wrong than whom anymore. No one cares. Taking away all the personal feeling and partisan strategies, the question that Ms. Park has thrown at the president is a very natural one from an opposition leader.
“The president, who is the supreme commander of the military, has reprimanded rather than praised the Navy, which did its duty to protect our seas,” she said. “A person who was tried and convicted of espionage for North Korea is now in the position of investigating our generals. Another such person has been named a pro-democracy figure. The public is concerned about the conflict between the president, the media and the military.”
In particular, surrounding the controversy over the recent intrusion of a North Korean patrol boat across the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea and the activities and decisions of the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths, there was strong criticism. Some protest that to make issues out of these incidents is reactionary thinking, but such incidents do give a sense of crisis over our national identity. The opposition leader should not be censured for representing such sentiments. Rather, President Roh has the responsibility to answer in good faith to the questions by the leader of the largest opposition party.
For the government to ignore the questions and counterattack by questioning Ms. Park’s qualifications to criticize because she is the daughter of a former dictator is missing the point. It is avoiding a true debate and denying Ms. Park’s position as the leading opposition party’s leader.
Of course, Ms. Park’s barrage of questions is not all noble and well-meaning criticism on government policy. One can sense personal hostility because of the attacks on her father and political calculations based on presidential ambitions.
We cannot ignore the deep-rooted rancor and distrust in society caused by our past under Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship. But the ruling camp’s all-out attacks against Ms. Park these days are excessive. The criticism that Ms. Park was using a scholarship fund she runs as a personal political machine almost seems as if the administration is determined to do whatever it takes to bury her political career.
Whether the government and the government party like it or not, Ms. Park is the leader of the opposition and a pillar of national governance. She is a partner with whom they need to discuss the affairs of state. If they tear her to pieces it would be at the cost of bidding farewell to the “politics of coexistence” that everyone promised to practice.
This time and energy-wasting political fight must stop now, not a day later, and the solution seems to lie in going back to the original points of debate. The president must answer the questions that Ms. Park posed to him.
As they are sensitive questions, the debate might get heated, but at least it won’t be the mudslinging bout that it is now. The next thing would be to raise the level of the debate, and this is a task that both the government and the opposition must work on together.
The problem might be solved more easily if President Roh and Ms. Park met and talked face to face. Such a meeting would contribute greatly towards creating an atmosphere of conversation between the government and the opposition and providing a judicious solutions to the difficult issues that the country faces.
President Roh, hold out the olive branch first. Practice magnanimity as the chief policymaker of this country.

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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