[Viewpoint]Having lost trust, Sohn must regain it

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[Viewpoint]Having lost trust, Sohn must regain it

I met Sohn Hak-kyu in June last year, just before he wound up his term as the governor of Gyeonggi province. There was a move within the governing party to induce him to bolt from the Grand National Party and make him the presidential candidate of the Uri Party.
Following is a conversation I had with him at that time.
“It seems difficult to expect the Grand National Party to reform itself because it is in a period of smooth sailing. Won’t you leave the party even if it does not change?”
“Why should I leave the party? That will never happen.”
“Do you mean you will stay with the Grand National Party even if you fail to become the party’s presidential candidate?”
(Raising his voice) “I did not learn politics that way. I would rather quit politics than do something like that.”
Nothing in his circumstances had changed, yet he has broken his word. I wonder why. He himself has said, “I know this can lead to my political death.”
There are various analyses on the reason behind his decision.
They include the following: “He was shocked by the fact that former President Kim Young-sam, the person who introduced him to politics, held the hand of Lee Myung-bak;” “He felt betrayed to find the National Assembly members he had supported as governor of Gyeonggi province line up behind the two leading candidates of the Grand National Party;” and “He has a tacit agreement with former President Kim Dae-jung.”
However, these are small variables. A politician who has gone through all sorts of hardships to rise up to be a presidential candidate should know that the sentiment of the people always tilts toward the side of the powerful.
The fundamental reason for his decision must lie somewhere else.
The former governor had wanted to fight it out at the 2007 presidential elections. Whenever someone said, “It would be better for you to run in 2012, after assuming the post of party chairman or prime minister when the Grand National Party has grasped power,” he got angry and retorted, “I am not interested in such things.”
It means that he understands the nature of power very clearly. Even if he remained at the Grand National Party and worked hard as the head of the party’s presidential election campaign, he can never be a core member of the next administration.
To the president-elect and his entourage, Mr. Sohn will always be someone to keep in check. He may become the prime minister or the chairman of the party, but he would never be given real power ― that is, he cannot be a core member of the president’s inner circle.
This is because political power is a “large shareholder’s game of monopoly.”
If Mr. Sohn dreams of becoming the president, and being named prime minister or party chairman cannot satisfy him, he probably had no choice but to leave the party.
However, this only explains the power struggle that he was facing. He has made mistakes too, which could not be covered up. He has failed to keep his repeated promises that he would not leave the party. He broke trust, his biggest political asset. His act of fouling and abandoning the very spring water that has nurtured him for the past 14 years will come to haunt him for a long time.
Any kinship between Mr. Sohn and the Grand National Party has ceased to exist the moment he cursed the party, saying it is full of “old-fashioned conservatives” and “the remnants of a military administration and an age of developmental dictatorship who are openly acting like masters.” No matter how badly he might have needed to leave the party, he should have stopped at “I looked for a way to change the Grand National Party but felt that there was a limit to my ability.”
It was this rejection and sense of estrangement that brought the tears to his eyes at the press conference on his departure from the party; it was not unexpected, as later portrayed.
The best choice for him would have been to take the role of martyr within the Grand National Party.
He should have participated in the party primary and at the end, he should have demanded that the presidential candidate continue to work for reform of the party. He could have played the role of being the voice of internal opposition within the governing party, keeping his distance from the administration, if the Grand National Party wins the presidential election in December. If a chance was to be given to him in the next presidential election in 2012, he could have tried his luck again; otherwise, he can simply quit politics.
This was the way through which he could have taken responsibility for choosing the New Korea Party, the predecessor of the Grand National Party, 14 years ago. If he did these things, he could have delivered on the hopes of people longing to see procedural democracy working, in which losers submit to the results of primary elections. It could have slowed down the conservative tendencies of the Grand National Party that he has criticized so much.
There remains only the second best choice now. That is, he can become a fire-starter or cheerleader of a new political force that will exceed both “the incompetent left wing” and “the corrupt right wing,” as he describes them.
But in order to do this, he has to officially announce that he will not run for president this year. This is the only way he can regain even a little credit for the sincerity that he has lost. Of course, people will suspect his words because his has lost credibility, but that is retribution for his past deeds, that he must carry.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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