[VIEWPOINT]Chung needs to make bold decisionCho Soon, a former deputy prime minister of the economy, once taught Chung Un-chan, a former president of Seoul National University. When Mr. Cho was a professor of economics at Seoul National University, he met Mr. Chung as a student. The teacher encouraged his pupil and opened doors for him. When Mr. Chung graduated from the university, he got a job at the Bank of Korea and went to the United States later for further studies.
There is an untold story that explains their extraordinarily close relationship. It happened when Mr. Chung was dating the woman who is now his wife, Choi Sun-joo. The parents of Miss Choi at that time objected to their marriage. Mr. Cho persuaded Miss Choi’s father, saying, “You will never regret your decision to accept him as your son-in-law.” Thus, Mr. Cho got his consent for the couple to marry.
When Mr. Cho ran for mayor of Seoul, later winning the first election of a civilian mayor by popular vote in 1995, Mr. Chung borrowed 30 million won ($31,900) from a bank on credit and spent it all on his campaign. He said later, “It took me a full four years to pay back the money.”
When the presidential election in 1997 was around the corner, however, the two men had a difference of opinion. The opposition camp at that time was divided into two groups; one that supported former President Kim Dae-jung and the other that supported the idea of finding an alternative candidate.
Mr. Cho, who was the elected president of the Democratic Party, the main opposition party, was encouraged by high approval ratings in the opinion polls. He dreamed about running for president, but Mr. Chung opposed his candidacy, saying, “You mustn’t run in the presidential race.” Mr. Cho retorted, “Why shouldn’t I?” Mr. Chung replied, “You can be beaten.”
Although Mr. Cho was the only frontrunner in various opinion polls carried out by different polling organizations, Mr. Chung judged that, with only the winds of temporary popular support, Mr. Cho had little chance to win over Mr. Kim, a seasoned politician with organized supporters.
Ten years have since passed. As his teacher was named in the past, Mr. Chung’s name is now being mentioned as a potential candidate for president. He had already declined offers for the posts that his teacher had assumed in the past, such as the governor of the Bank of Korea, deputy prime minister of economy and the mayor of Seoul. The governing Uri Party considers him to be its first-choice candidate to be invited from outside of the party. A lot of changes have taken place in the political arena recently. Seasoned politicians with dignity have been defeated by new faces in politics and an era has opened in which candidates without organized supporters and political funds can become presidential candidates, National Assemblyman and the mayor of Seoul.
Mr. Cho evaluated Mr. Chung: “He is honest, clean and decisive. He has a blueprint for the future of the nation. As he knows how to behave as a leader and has many friends around him, he can manage the future of the nation properly.” Mr. Cho also said, “It would be a good thing if a man like Mr. Chung goes into politics.” Here is why Mr. Chung is agonizing deeply over his future. Starting at the beginning of January, Mr. Chung began to sever contacts with others. It is said that he will leave for London on Monday and return some time later.
What conclusion will he arrive at? On rumors of the governing party’s plan to invite him as its presidential candidate, he expressed displeasure, saying, “Since the party’s popularity is dying away, they intend to use me as kindling.” His remark can be interpreted as either a suggestion that “I won’t be used by them,” or a message that “I will decide when the conditions are ripe.”
Of course, timing is important in politics, because one can dramatize the effect when the timing is good. But what is even more important is one’s beliefs and determination. A clear-cut answer to the question, “Why am I going to start in politics?” should be ready to be given. One should be able to explain to the people, as well as himself, what value he wants to realize through politics and what role he can play. Once he gets an answer to the question, he should make a bold decision. And one can make such a decision only when he is determined to devote himself to it. Otherwise, if one is weighing various chances and possibilities, paying attention only to the “prestige,” it will be better to give up the idea of running in the presidential race. Even if one becomes a presidential candidate or even a president without such determination, it is nothing but a pavilion built on sand.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jung-min