[VIEWPOINT]Look to candidates’ friendsWatching the sudden fall of Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, I started to get confused. I feel somewhat empty and sad to say that I am glad he is gone. Why is it that we are not able to have a prime minister whom we can send off with applause and a feeling that we will miss him?
There is a saying that there is an iron axe prime minister and a gold axe prime minister. A gold axe may look great, but it cannot chop wood. An iron axe is useful but it has the disadvantage of being too rough. A prime minister should have the best side of both axes, but it is hard to have both.
I remember the words of a former Japanese prime minister, Hayato Ikada, who achieved many great accomplishments. He once said that his experience taught him that a prime minister needs three friends. Aside from the many politicians and bureaucrats surrounding the post, he said that a prime minister needs real friends who can share their hearts with him when he has to make an important decision. One should be a highly accomplished religious person, the second a journalist with a high degree of insight into current affairs, and the third should be a noble and wise medical doctor.
While he was serving as a cabinet minister, Mr. Ikeda created quite a stir in Japanese politics. In the course of a question and answer session in parliament, he was quoted to have made such slips of the tongue as, “Let the poor people eat barley rice,” and, “There is nothing we can do about poor companies going bankrupt and small and medium-business owners committing suicide.” He even received a no-confidence vote in parliament for making such remarks. Later, however, it turned out that his words had been taken out of context and exaggerated by the newspapers, but he did not fight against the press for that.
Instead, he braced himself and worked hard, keeping a low profile for seven years before coming back magnificently as the prime minister. As soon as he became prime minister, he introduced a slogan of “tolerance and patience” and actively embraced factions hostile to him. Mr. Ikeda loved drinking and playing golf but, after he became the prime minister, he declared that he would not go to saloons or play golf during his time in office, and he kept that promise. He was an elite bureaucrat from the haughty Finance Ministry, but successfully changed to become a friendly politician who related to the common people.
He is said to have been greatly influenced in his process of change by the three friends of different types he spoke of. First, it is said that his wise religious friend taught him to contemplate the world one step away from the complexities of everyday life and to do things with a selfless humble mind. Actually, Mr. Ikeda had suffered from a chronic disease in his youth and once made a pilgrimage for over five years visiting the temples of the country with his mother, with his whole body wrapped in bandages. It was probably during this time that he learned patience and accumulated that potential for the future. Amidst the business schedule he had to manage as a politician, Mr. Ikeda tried to keep the rhythm of his daily life and peace of mind.
Then, through his journalist friend, he listened to comprehensive public opinion aside from the reports he received from government channels, and responded promptly. Not long after he was elected as prime minister, there was a tragic incident in which the leader of the Socialist Party was stabbed to death by a right-wing youth at an open debate between the government and opposition parties. The prime minister was also there. All of Japan was stirred, and Prime Minister Ikeda’s cabinet was in crisis. The prime minister acted quickly. He sincerely and touchingly praised and mourned the deceased in his inaugural speech at a special parliamentary session that was called five days later. His speech was so touching that all the Socialist Party members shed tears and people were deeply moved. The public outcry died down too. The speech was the work of the prime minister’s aide, who used to be a journalist. The aide assisted with an insight into current affairs rather than blind faith, which compensated for Mr. Ikeda’s straight-forwardness. The aide relayed even negative information to the prime minister and frequently gave forthright advice.
Lastly, Mr. Ikeda maintained good health thanks to his doctor friend. The position of a prime minister is loaded with heavy work. It is hard to make good judgments if one is in bad health. Mr. Ikeda always spent his weekends at resorts, resting with good friends. The doctor played his most important role when Mr. Ikeda was about to step down from his position. When the prime minister showed symptoms of cancer, the doctor advised him to resign and the prime minister prepared for that resignation. It was just in time for the Tokyo Olympics, and so the prime minister stepped down right after he attended the opening ceremony.
They say that people normally get angry easily, become too greedy or do stubborn things three years before they die. This is because something goes wrong in the brain and body, and so it is important to withdraw from any involvement in important things at this stage. It is not that easy though. Mr. Ikeda accomplished many things, including the successful implementation of an income doubling plan, and concluded his term well thanks to his good friends.
Work in Korea is complex and the bureaucratic structure is inadequate, so the help of friends is even more important for the Korean prime minister.
It would be wise to check whether the candidates rumored to be under consideration to be the next prime minister have good friends, and who are their main associates.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ibo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk