[VIEWPOINT]Candidates must avoid the political trapsEmperor Hyojeong of the Eastern Wei dynasty of China (386-589 A.D.) was a man of imposing appearance, a master of martial arts and a person never defeated by hardship. He was an exemplar of a distinguished character in history during a time when the dynasty was at its height.
But the emperor ruled under the thumb of a military clique led by Ko Hwan, who had conquered the Northern Wei, the predecessor of Hyojeong’s Eastern Wei, by mobilizing a 200,000-strong nomadic force. Ko had murdered two emperors and drove a third one to flight, throwing the Northern Wei into political crisis because his nomadic tribes from the north had been resisting the assimilation policy of the Han tribe, the predominant race that ruled central China.
The military strongman’s son, Ko Jing, succeeded his father. He watched the emperor’s every move through Choi Kaeseo, a spy he attached to the emperor.
The emperor was essentially powerless. During a feast, Ko Jing filled a glass with drink and ordered the emperor to empty it at once. On the face of it, a subordinate was offering his superior a glass of liquor. When the emperor lost his temper saying, “How can I, an emperor, bear such humiliation?” Ko Jing ridiculed him and ordered his subordinates to beat the emperor. The emperor, who was nothing but a puppet, had no sense of propriety, and was taught a lesson. The next day, the emperor rewarded the man who beat him with 100 rolls of silk. (Abstracted from “The Rules of Power” published by Hangil Publishing Co.)
To act as an emperor, you have to have power.
Without power, it is of no use to be a master of martial arts, as was the Emperor Hyojeong. Even if you pursue a justifiable plan to secure the next 100 years of the nation, you will fail.
Put in a contemporary light, the emperor’s dilemma is like the reform policy that aims to abolish regionalism in South Korea.
Ko Hwan emerged as a military strongman ostensibly representing the dissatisfied forces in society. In politics, power represents the forces in the background that support the politicians.
For Ko Hwan, military force was the base of his power. But in a democratic system in which the leaders who come to power are decided by elections, the power comes from the people.
So it is political restructuring that the governing party and the government want to promote.
If the restructuring does not win popular support, it will be hard to accomplish.
There are easy ways to gain support and win public sentiment. They are regionalism and ideology.
Former President Kim Dae-jung, who had been bogged down by the trap of regionalism, won the 1997 elections thanks to a coalition with the United Liberal Democrats of Kim Jong-pil and cooperation between the Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces. The coalition countered the criticism that he was a Red.
The idea of forming solidarity among reform forces who support democracy and peace, which was suggested by the former chairman of the Uri Party, Chung Dong-young, is in practice an attempt to return to Kim Dae-jung’s tactical move.
But its future course is rocky. The party can be split into factions or be trapped in the Honam region. Even gaining hegemony in the Honam region is not that easy.
The prospect of winning the presidential election is the dividing force, or centripetal power, that drives regionalism today.
In a survey conducted by Korea Gallop after the May 31 elections, Mr. Chung’s approval rating in Honam region was less than one-tenth of the former prime minister, Goh Kun.
This is attributed to people’s thinking that Mr. Goh is more likely to be elected than Mr. Chung.
In addition, there is currently no regional leader as charismatic as the political leader Kim Jong-pil, who can unite the voters in the Chungcheong provinces as he did in the years when he led the region.
One way out of the ruling party’s dilemma is to find a centripetal power from outside the party.
It can be Mr. Goh, one of three opposition leaders so far mentioned eyeing a presidential run, or formation of a third party.
The biggest obstacle in this case are the presidential hopefuls of the Uri Party; also, it is not clear whether outsiders would accept an invitation from the party.
In the case of Mr. Goh, his approval ratings could evaporate as soon as he joins Uri.
It is said that his high support rating has to do with his stance of straddling both the governing and the opposition parties.
He can be trapped by regionalism as well. For these reasons, there is a strong possibility that he will set up camp outside the party and induce some Uri lawmakers to his side. If Uri invites a third person, the party will face splitting the votes with Mr. Goh.
It is also not easy to set up an axis of ideology because of the effect of President Roh Moo-hyun’s “code politics.”
Mr. Roh has given every indication that choosing to keep his party in power will mean a continuation, for the next 10 to 20 years, of the obstinacy and dogma that defines his administration.
The best scenario for the governing party is for opposition candidates, including Park Geun-hye and Lee Myong-bak, to compete with each other in the election and split the votes of Yongnam region and the conservatives.
But the Uri party cannot simply wait for such a situation to unfold; indeed, the chances of a split are bigger within the Uri Party than the opposition.
Whichever brand of politics comes on top eventually, it is the capability to manage state affairs that counts in the end.
If they can help people to live in comfort without feeling vulnerable, both regionalism and ideology will lose their power. Ultimately, politicians can’t treat people as jackstones in their pockets.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ibo.
by Kim Jin-Kook