[FORUM]A mayor’s aim for the presidencyThe monthly salary of Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak is 5.8 million won ($5,550). You are mistaken if you think this salary doesn’t mean much to the CEO-turned-politician who is worth 18 billion won. Mr. Lee grew up in extreme poverty and spent 30 years as an employee of Hyundai, and he unconsciously equates the salary with the price of hard labor and considers it as precious as his life.
The salary is deposited into his account at Woori Bank on the 21st of every month, and then the money is automatically transferred to the Beautiful Foundation, a charity organization run by lawyer Park Won-soon as the Lamplight Fund. The Lamplight Fund is a charity program for the welfare of street sweepers and fire department employees.
At the Beautiful Foundation Web site, you can check that Mr. Lee has donated more than 200 million won in the last three years. Mr. Lee has said, “I have accumulated a sufficient fortune to live comfortably. I can work without thinking about my self-interest as I donate my salary.”
Mr. Lee, who started out as an average white-collar worker and rose to become CEO of one of the biggest companies in Korea, transformed into a lawmaker and then became mayor of the capital, Seoul. The next goal he hopes to reach in his career may be to become the next president of the country. The latest episode in the drama of next-generation politics, in which eight to nine presidential hopefuls are starring, deals with the politics of the Cheonggye stream. At the moment, Mr. Lee stands in the limelight. Can he play the leading role by coming into power in the last episode of the political drama two years from now?
The probability of assuming power can be found in the functions of the campaign strategy, human power and the political environment. The equation would be Power=f (strategy, human power, environment).
If Mr. Lee is to move on to the next destination of his life, he needs to get through at least three challenges. There are two tasks regarding the campaign strategy, and the other is a personal challenge. The questions in the campaign strategy are with whom to join hands and against whom to fight.
The first challenge is the inducement from some rightists infatuated with ideological excess. These radical ideologists openly denounce the president of the Republic of Korea as a follower of the Kim Jong-il regime. They think that the North Korean leader has virtually taken over the sovereignty of the South, and is playing with even the opposite Grand National Party.
As half-baked pro-Pyongyang protagonists such as Professor Kang Jeong-koo prevail, the radical rightists are gaining influence at the same time. The two groups are rising together because they are in an adversarial yet symbiotic relationship. The radical right and the pro-Pyongyang group are antagonistic on the surface but are mutually dependent because the existence of one is essential for the survival of the other. Their perspectives on the world are unrealistic and anachronistic. They are the identical twins born between hatred and hostility.
The words and deeds of the extreme right disgust the moderates, the reasonable conservatives and the liberals. Among the ultraconservatives, Mr. Lee is the overwhelming choice as the next presidential hopeful over Goh Kun or Park Geun-hye. If Mr. Lee tunes his wavelength to the inflammatory, militant calling of the radical rightists, moderate supporters will turn their backs on him, considering him a hostage of the radical ideology. Thanks to his achievements, a wide range of voters support Mr. Lee. Ideology has nothing to do with supporting him.
Another challenge is the possible “Lee Myung-bak boom.” There have been few politicians mentioned as the next president who succeeded in the end. President Kim Young-sam was an exception. However, the boom was supported by a substantial element for victory, namely the merger of three parties that besieged the Honam region. The Lee Hoi-chang boom was essentially hollow. The Lee In-je boom was a trap set by his rival.
Many election campaign strategists working for the governing party think that it would be advantageous for them if Mr. Lee competes with one of their candidates, such as Chung Dong-young, in the final round. The governing party is dexterous in a political campaign using images and emotions, and they figured that aggressive and acute Mr. Lee is an easier opponent than Park Geun-hye, who has a mysterious charm. Therefore, the governing party is promoting the Lee Myung-bak boom after the restoration of the Cheonggye stream. The Lee Myung-bak boom lacks substance. It is a trap.
There also is a personal task for Mr. Lee. It is a challenge of image, not substance. A fixed image often has more destructive power than substance. He has been branded with four negative images. At every election, there has been a rumor of illegal campaigning, and people suspect corruption for his having accumulated such a fortune as a salaried man. The self-made man is known to be obstinate and self-righteous, and is criticized for having betrayed his boss, who had sponsored him.
If Mr. Lee can keep away from the radical ideologists, the trap of a boom and fixed images, the possibility of taking power will increase.
* The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chun Young-gi