[OUTLOOK]A decline of political issues?A few days ago, a photograph of Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye and Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak walking around the Cheonggye stream together was carried in newspapers. There is no way of knowing what the two people really talked about, but I am guessing that this is what they had in mind to say to one another:
Mayor Lee: What do you think of my work?
Chairwoman Park: It’s great. Congratulations.
Mayor Lee: Now that you know how good I am, why don’t you concede the presidential candidacy to me?
Chairwoman Park: I don’t know. I would give it up if it were the presidency of a construction company, but....
The Cheonggye stream restoration is “the work of Lee Myung-bak.” He really proved his worth through this project. He not only showed off his brilliant ideas but also completely took care of all the protests by businesses in the area in his own way. Now Mayor Lee is going to blow a fanfare for his presidential election campaign with the congratulatory event of “sending water through the new Cheonggye stream.” Some point out that Mr. Lee is creating too much commotion with that event, but in any case, Mr. Lee will be standing before the people to be judged by his Cheonggye stream achievement.
It seems that political issues of the past will lose their significance in the next presidential election, and instead it is likely that the competition of the actual accomplishments of the candidates will attract people’s attention. The voters are sick and tired of hearing about political issues like “democratization” and “reform” now. Some even state that it would be better to have a final battle between the democratization forces and the industrialization forces to put an end to the era of confrontation and enter a new one. However, under such a structure we cannot see a vision for the future. It would be torture to hear the old tunes of criticism against “corruption” and an “incompetent regime” again. The people long to hear a new song.
The fact that those mentioned as presidential hopefuls are building up impressive accomplishments makes the chances of competition based on accomplishments bright. They have already achieved some accomplishments or are in the process of playing an active role in politics, serving in the cabinet or managing local governments. In the political field, Ms. Park succeeded in reviving the Grand National Party from the political setback of losing the April legislative elections because of the party’s role in the presidential impeachment. She is also evaluated positively for having stopped President Roh’s coalition offensive. In the administration, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and ministers Chung Dong-young, Kim Keun-tae and Chun Jung-bae are using their advantageous positions to competitively build up more accomplishments.
The reason why former Prime Minister Goh Kun remains in the No. 1 position in various public opinion polls can be also interpreted as the reflection of his successful accomplishments as the acting president during the impeachment process. Besides Mayor Lee, among the leaders of local autonomous governments, Gyeonggi province Governor Sohn Hak-kyu boasts the achievement of attracting 86 cases of foreign investment totaling $13.3 billion, including Intel and 3M from the United States and Albak Corporation of Japan.
The elections held after the transfer of power from the military-backed governments to a civilian one have so far been a competition among the experiences of the democratization struggle, regional hegemony and political experiences. It has basically been a battle of air, depending on one’s words and bare hands with no real productive accomplishments to demonstrate.
If an election where competition is limited to accomplishments takes place, I believe that we will be able to change our topics of conversation from “eradication and cleansing” to “productivity and construction” and from “the past” to “the future,” and create a more hopeful and bright atmosphere. Of course a regional structure still exists and it might be a bit rash to hope for such a change in a reality where there are deep grooves of conflict between different ideas, classes and generations. However, a solution can be found in raising the relative importance of accomplishments, and there are signs that this could become a reality in the next presidential election.
What is important is the self-consciousness of the candidates. They must have the determination to overcome negative factors and win over their competitors by presenting personal accomplishments and a vision based on these accomplishments.
Of all the accomplishments made so far, opening the Cheonggye stream and inter-Korean relations are the most eye-catching. However, since there are more than two years to go until the next election, it is not easy to predict how long the effect of these accomplishments will last. The effects can be halved because of excessive publicity and meet headwind by competing to accomplish more. In some ways, the competition of accomplishments can be more important from now on. If you are confident of your accomplishments, manage them well; if you think you lack accomplishments, work on making greater ones. They don’t have to be finished works. Just don’t turn up at the elections with “empty hands.”
Nevertheless, showing evident intentions in making accomplishments or in publicizing them is off limits. After all, people have a higher level of culture now and they are more particular about what they like and don’t like.
* The writer is the chief of the JoongAng Ilbo’s editorial page.
by Heo Nam-chin