[OUTLOOK]Elections a victory for the peopleNothing has changed even after the unusual results at the recent local elections. The president has reiterated his determination not to change his stance or policies. The Grand National Party, which won a surprise sweeping victory, has been keeping a low profile, as if being careful not to lose the support that it earned the hard way.
The people cast their votes but no reactions have come from political circles. This administration calls itself participatory. At the core of participation lie elections. Thus, isn’t it the job of the incumbent government to reflect the results of the local elections when managing the nation?
Instead, the president downplayed the meaning of the election results by saying they were nothing but a “trend of public opinion,” meaning it would come and go. The President said that people who say the right things do not always win and that defeat in elections does not mean that they took the wrong roles in a historical sense. He seems to mean that the results of the last elections were wrong from a historical perspective.
These remarks confuse us. Is it that we have the right president in a historical perspective but that we are too dumb to recognize him? Will there be a historical evaluation that says President Roh Moo-hyun was right at the time? How shameful will it be if it turns out that we did not recognize a historic leader?
How can we tell the difference between leaders who are right in a historical perspective and those who are not? This has been one of the major tasks for scholars who study leadership.
Although historic leaders should be equipped with many virtues, I believe the following points are prerequisites for them, among other characteristics.
The most important is the capacity to unite people. Great leaders unite even people who have been utterly divided. Abraham Lincoln is a good example, who united America, which had been divided over the issue of freeing Confederate slaves. Nelson Mandela is another good example. He became the president of a country where extreme racial discrimination was widespread. He then calmed and united the country’s people.
Historic leaders overcome crises by working with the people. Leaders alone cannot overcome in times of crisis. They listen to what the people want and act together with the people. Franklin Roosevelt, who led the United States to overcome the Great Depression, is a good example of this.
In the May 31 local elections, Koreans cast their votes with a sense of crisis, thinking that they could not let the nation go on this way. As a result, the Grand National Party won 10 million votes, while the Uri Party got only 4 million.
However, the president did not try to read the meaning of those results. A president who does not try to listen to the people cannot be said to be a historic leader.
Historic leaders have a vision for the future. Mahatma Gandhi led India’s independence movement with the policy of nonviolent resistance, satyagraha. Great leaders look into the future, instead of stubbornly hanging on to the past.
If the president only sticks to the past and frets about our shameful history on Memorial Day even after the election results had come out, it is hard to call him a historic leader.
How should we evaluate a president who talks about history while performing acts that are far from those of a historic leader? A president who is certain that he is making the right decision in a historical perspective tends not to accept reality.
Because of this conviction, he does not try to see or listen. One-and-a-half years of his remaining term can easily be wasted. This is too long a time for the people who go through hardships every day. Leaders who emphasize historical values too much can go in the wrong direction, due to their delusion and arrogance.
The so-called reform forces in the Uri Party say that the party lost because reform measures were not fully carried out. By reform measures, they mean left-wing policies. They mean that they should turn the nation toward the left even further. They can create more chaos during the remaining term, saying that they are doing works that are historically important. The remaining one-and-a-half years could be as tough as the past three-and-a-half years of President Roh’s Moo-hyun’s term.
But we do not need to be afraid, because we have seen the ability of the people.
The biggest achievement is that the people rejected populism. Korea is not like South America where leftwing populism is commonplace. This government thought it could gain a lot of votes if it divided the rich and the poor, Seoul and local districts and northern and southern Seoul. It believed that would work because poor people always outnumber rich people.
But the people were not fooled by that trick. They made it clear that the minority in the nation is actually the governing party. Koreans have changed since the last local elections.
We have confirmed that we are not alone and many of us share the same thoughts. The people’s awareness of history achieved this victory.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk