[VIEWPOINT]A fresh image is riding a dark horseOne of the keys to next year’s presidential election is who will emerge as an alternative to the current presidential hopefuls. That is, besides the Grand National Party’s candidates, namely Lee Myung-bak, Park Geun-hye and Sohn Hak-kyu, and non-Grand National Party candidates, Goh Kun, Chung Dong-young and Kim Geun-tae, who will be the bearer of the third flag? The name most often mentioned in the discussions among politicians, political scientists and journalists is the former president of Seoul National University, Chung Un-chan. In a survey of 10 opinion poll specialists conducted recently by the JoongAng Ilbo, Mr. Chung was chosen as the candidate with the most potential to be a dark horse.
However, Mr. Chung told journalists on Friday evening his candidacy in the presidential race seemed “impossible considering the various conditions.” When a Munhwa Ilbo journalist asked him whether he will participate in the open primary elections of the pro-government camp, he said, “I will never participate.”
But those are only words. There have been many precedents in Korean politics in which leading figures in society entered politics despite their previous words to the contrary. Perhaps the fate of Mr. Chung will hinge more on the changes that occur in the pro-government camp than on his own decision.
On Friday, he said, “I don’t engage in a fight if there is no possibility of winning. I am a decisive man.” In other words, he can also decide there is a possibility of winning.
There are many variables that will affect that decision.
First, the governing Uri Party should launch a new party with politicians who do not belong to the Grand National Party. Even if a new party is established, people will talk less about Mr. Chung if former Prime Minister Goh Kun is revived as its leader. The same thing will happen if someone like Chung Dong-young, Kim Geun-tae, Kang Kum-sill or Chin Dae-je re-emerges abruptly as an alternative candidate. If neither of the above scenarios happens, nor any new faces emerge, politicians on the opposite side from the Grand National Party will extend their hands to Mr. Chung.
Even then, there is no guarantee everything will go smoothly. All of the political new faces, including Lee Hoi-chang, Kang Kum-sill, Chin Dae-je and others, had to go through an extensive verification procedure. Mr. Chung is no exception.
Mr. Chung’s strong point is his fresh image. He graduated from Kyunggi High School and Seoul National University. And he was the president of Seoul National University, Korea’s symbol of intellectual achievement. It will be a dramatic contrast to the time when the nation was under former President Kim Dae-jung and President Roh Moo-hyung, who each graduated from a commercial high school.
When he was the president of Seoul National University, Mr. Chung left a good image in the minds of the people by standing against President Roh. As an economics scholar, he gives the impression that he has some good ideas on real estate issues and the economy.
His regional background as a native of Gongju, South Chungcheong province, is also helpful.
Some experts in the Uri Party say a candidate has to gain the “full support of Chungcheong voters, since Honam voters will support the Democratic Party.”
His fresh image, however, might also be a burden to him.
Except for working as the president of Seoul National University, he has not had a professional career to prove his administrative capability. He has not yet proven himself as a political leader with vision and a driving force. The reaction that people will have to the fact that he was exempted from military duty is uncertain.
Legally, as the only son of a family which lost a father, he was exempted. But he was not the only son to his biological father. He was adopted by his father’s younger brother. Although there is nothing wrong legally, the psychology of voters is not that simple.
When he was still a student, he dreamed of becoming a National Assemblyman or a high-ranking government official. His mother encouraged him, saying, “You know, your family served in the royal court in the old days, but no one has been promoted to the rank of a cabinet minister in the past three generations.” However, Frank Schofield, a British bacteriologist who came to Korea in 1916 and helped Korea’s independence movement under Japanese rule, is said to have advised him to “play the role of giving constructive criticism while working in a field other than politics, which is prone to be tainted with corruption.”
Can Chung Un-chan be the third candidate for the presidency?
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin