[FORUM]Two years to recover lost groundElections certainly have a message in them. The same goes for presidential elections, legislative elections or by-elections. The election results reflect the people’s hearts. Failure to read them properly, thus neglecting their meaning, leads to paying an even harsher price later.
The results of the by-elections on Oct. 26 naturally contain a message too. Combining its failure to win any of the four seats on Oct. 26 with the complete defeat of not winning any of the 23 seats on April 30, the governing Uri Party lost in 27 by-elections this year, suffering two consecutive routs at that. The situation being so, we can easily see how dissatisfied the people are with the present administration and the governing party.
To reveal clearly the message of these by-elections, it is much more effective to examine the runners-up rather than the external results. Uri candidate Lee Sang-soo was defeated in Wonmi-gap, Bucheon, Gyeonggi province. The governing party nominated Mr. Lee “in return for” his detention on charges of mismanaging campaign funds for then-presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun in 2002. For this reason, residents punished candidate Lee in the by-election. As a result, the opposition Grand National Party, which had never had a winner in this region, recorded its first victory there.
Another Uri candidate, Lee Gang-chul, lost the race in Dong-eul, Daegu, but received 44 percent of the votes. Being a close confidant of President Roh Moo-hyun, he could promise profusely to develop the relatively neglected area and joined the campaign earlier than the opposition candidates. Notwithstanding such advantages, he deserves a high mark for fighting a good fight. This gave warning to the Grand National Party that the party could no longer gain votes easily in Daegu and North Gyeongsang province. In Ulsan, where the far-left, pro-labor Democratic Labor Party produced winners in legislative and district elections last year, a candidate from the party lost the election this time. The reasons for his failure were the conflict between the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Democratic Labor Party, and irregular workers’ turning away from the party. As a consequence, the Democratic Labor Party lost one of the two seats won in the electoral districts. To the party, which emerged brilliantly from the 17th legislative elections, this warned that the roots of liberal politics can be eradicated anytime.
A district we should pay closer attention to than those three regions is Gwangju in Gyeonggi province. This is also a place where the leadership of the Grand National Party was anxiously watching the election results to the end. An independent candidate, Hong Sa-duk, a former GNP legislator, gained 17, 812 votes, which was 30.8 percent of the total vote. That figure was merely 1,331 votes less than that of the Grand National Party winner, who received 19, 143 votes, that is, 33. 2 percent of the total. Although the elections are over, the media was unable to highlight their significance. Both the Grand National Party and the governing Uri Party kept silent about the message the election gave, as if they had an agreement with each other.
Why is this so? The Grand National Party cannot escape its complex over the impeachment of President Roh. Because of the impeachment, the party experienced a crisis for its very existence, so it does not want to talk about candidate Hong, who spearheaded the move to impeach President Roh, nor does it want to become involved in the issue again. As for the Uri Party, it is afraid of facing the message the election gave. Therefore, it is ignoring the election results, either pretending not to know or sneering at the opposition party.
Mr. Hong applied for nomination to the Grand National Party but was rejected on the ground of having been “a central figure in the presidential impeachment incident.” However, he forced his way into the elections as an independent candidate. At that time, the country laughed at Mr. Hong’s unyielding spirit, saying he was running in a district where he had no regional ties and as an independent candidate without support from a party. It is difficult to explain his success in gaining votes with his reputation alone. Some residents said, “We voted for candidate Hong because he was the main actor in the presidential impeachment crisis.”
This is an appalling reversal in history. The reality is that the people’s hearts, which had reacted against the opposition party’s move to impeach the president and gave a majority in the National Assembly to the Uri Party in the 17th legislative elections, have turned around in a year and a half to vote for the leader of the impeachment. This is not to say that the decision to propose the impeachment was right. The present administration should look squarely at the reality in which people’s disappointment and resentment with the administration have reached the utmost limits to the point of denying their past judgment. The administration still has two years to recover from its failures.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo