[VIEWPOINT]Setting aside ideology for policy reformLawmaker Ahn Young-keun is an interesting politician. He was outside the mainstream when he belonged to the Grand National Party and later the Uri Party. Early last year, he insisted that President Roh Moo-hyun break away from the Uri Party. Since he also said if reform forces, including Rhyu Si-min, seceded from the Uri Party many party members would be laughing in the men’s room, he was in a difficult position.
Looking at his remarks and resume, it would be easy to conclude Mr. Ahn is a person who just has to resist everything, or he’s immature and just likes to be different from everyone else.
At least, I thought so. When he was a student at Inha University, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for violation of the country’s emergency measure No. 9. In 1980, he was imprisoned for one year for violation of martial law. In 1983, he was kept behind bars again for one year for violation of the National Security Law. He worked as a senior member of an association for social movement in the Incheon region. He also served as a senior member of an association of democracy movement organizations.
Despite these experiences, he received the Grand National Party’s nomination for the National Assembly in 2000, which did not seem natural at all. His move was suspicious enough to be regarded an act of betrayal as if he was abandoning his progressive ideas in pursuit of power.
In July 2003, he broke from the Grand National Party and joined the newly-formed Uri Party. Since he was elected with the GNP suspicion arose that he moved to the ruling party because the former failed to gain power. If he had become a key figure in the ruling party, this suspicion would have become a conviction. However, he did not join the mainstream in the ruling party, because he frequently criticized the president and powerful figures in the administration. Since early this year, he has been publicly supporting former prime minister Goh Kun, who is widely expected to run for the presidency. I often wonder if Mr. Ahn was meant to be an outsider who cannot get accustomed to life as a member of an organization.
But this prejudice was broken when I heard that he had changed his stance on the National Security Law. He insisted on abandonment of the National Security Law at a Grand National Party seminar in Aug. 2000, and he was marked as a troublemaker by then-chairman Lee Hoi-chang and other senior members. The party expected to unanimously agree on keeping the law, but Mr. Ahn insisted that the records note a member had insisted on abolishing the law although it was a minority opinion. However, in late 2004 when he was a Uri member, he opposed abolition of the National Security Law amid debates on four major controversial bills. He supported a rewritten version or an alternative law. If he was only after power, he would have, or should have, been in favor of keeping the law when he belonged to the Grand National Party, and abolishing the law when he migrated to the Uri Party.
Curious about his intentions, I looked up his past remarks and asked him questions in person.
Mr. Ahn said that, ironically, the Grand National Party is the only political group that can abolish the National Security Law. By this he meant that if the Grand National Party wants to abandon the law, people will feel safe, but if the Uri Party were to do that, the people would feel very insecure.
He wrote a statement appealing to moderates inside the ruling party. This statement clearly revealed his ideas. He wrote: “Managing the country should be done very carefully, as if one were the captain of an aircraft carrier. If one manages the country as if sailing a small boat, public opinion will not follow... Reforms should be made in accordance with public opinion... Negotiations with opposition parties should be done with a flexible approach.” His arguments are persuasive because he was a victim of the National Security Law. We cannot know whether Mr. Ahn will be able to stay in politics as he wants. But his flexibility on the National Security Law sends a great message to Korea’s politics, which are frequently caught up in extreme head-on confrontations.
Why does the ruling party hesitate to say, “We cannot live as a hostage to North Korea’s nuclear weapons?” Why can’t the Grand National Party say that the issue should be resolved by direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea? When will the word “peace” stop being the exclusive slogan of progressives, and the word “security” that of conservatives? Can growth and fair distribution of its benefits never coexist?
When politicians can be flexible with their political convictions when they make policies, healthy conservatism and stable progress can be achieved. Otherwise, the people have no choice but to choose a lesser evil, instead of choosing a better alternative.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo