Orchestrating the run for the presidencyFormer President Roh Tae-woo sent his predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan, to prison and Kim Young-sam sent Roh Tae-woo, whom he succeeded as president, to prison. Incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun put Kwon Roh-kap and Park Jie-won, close aides of Kim Dae-jung, his predecessor, in jail.
The incumbent president tries to get out of the shadow of his predecessor and define his own authority, but the preceding president wants the incumbent to succeed to his legacy because the incumbent represents “the power of the predecessor’s own making.”
When such contradictory desires collide, the feelings of betrayal and distrust grow like a snowball. The current relationship between President Roh and Kim Dae-jung might be described as such.
Kim Dae-jung even used the term “power shift” on March 23 when he talked about the upcoming presidential election, instead of “recapturing power.” This indicates that Kim Dae-jung thinks of President Roh as an “other,’’ not as “us.”
No matter how bad their relationship may be, it’s quite bizarre that the two are saber-rattling to grab the initiative to select the candidate from their camp to run for president.
In the Grand National Party, the field of candidates has been narrowed to a showdown between Lee Myeung-bak and Park Geun-hye.
Kim Dae-jung’s strong points are the support of the voters in the Honam area, the South and North Jeolla provinces, and his legacy, the Sunshine Policy.
It was with the aim of securing political support that Kim continuously stressed the contribution that the Sunshine Policy made to national security; curried favor with the people of Honam with his declaration, “No Honam, No Country;” visited the construction site of Saemangeum, a tidal flat in North Jeolla province, and got the Democratic Party to pick his second son, Kim Hong-up, as its candidate to run in the April 25 by-elections.
Roh Moo-hyun’s biggest weapon is that he is the incumbent president.
For the past 16 years, every other incumbent president has been ranked first in the Sisa Weekly Magazine’s opinion poll, “The Most Influential People Who Move Korea,” which is based on a survey of 1,000 professionals in all fields. There was just one exception. Even in October 2006, when President Roh’s approval rating was at its lowest, 63.2 percent of people polled indicated the incumbent president was the most influential person.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that people who are aware of the power of the incumbent president voted for President Roh, including 83 percent of journalists, 78 percent of government officials and 72 percent of politicians
Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung are now both driving the lineup of potential presidential candidates of the ruling camp, though there is a difference in their methods. President Roh uses a “negative” method. He openly criticizes the potential candidates and eliminates them one by one. He criticized former prime minister Goh Kun, saying his appointment was “a mistake.” About former Seoul National University President Chung Woon-chan, he said, “Just because someone has studied economics, it does not necessarily mean he is good at it.” And he attacked Sohn Hak-kyu, former Gyeonggi governor, by saying, “A person who violates rules and plays foul is not qualified to be a politician.” He criticized the former chairmen of the Uri Party, Chung Dong-young and Kim Geun-tae, saying he was “more or less disappointed” with them. He is signaling that he, as the incumbent, has the power to stop certain people from becoming president. The only people left on Roh Moo-hyun’s list now are Rhyu Si-min, Kim Hyuk-kyu, Kim Du-kwan, Han Myeong-sook and Lee Hae-chan.
Kim Dae-jung uses a “positive” method. He does not exclude anyone specifically from the list of potential candidates. He only appeals for “unification.” He simply indicates his preferred direction, telling the ruling camp it should “unify its candidates, if forming a unified party is difficult.”
He is signaling that he will only be satisfied if ruling camp candidates make a loyalty pledge ― that they will become successors to Kim Dae-jung’s policy guidelines. Yet those who are beguiled by the charm of “Honam and the progressives” are still lining up for him. Chung Dong-young, Kim Geun-tae, Sohn Hak-kyu and Chung Woon-chan have actually been leaning toward Kim Dae-jung, openly pledging that they will “succeed the Sunshine Policy.”
Former and current presidents can express their political views, because after all, they are politicians, too. However, it can be a problem if it goes beyond the limits of the law and the people’s own good sense. I can understand that the presidential hopefuls of the ruling camp may want to gain the support of former and incumbent presidents. However, relying too much on that can lead them to lose the capacity to find their own way. Ruling camp candidates could end up becoming mama’s boys. Kim Young-sam and Roh Moo-hyun became president because they were candidates who stood on their own capabilities. One who cannot stand on his own cannot move the hearts of the people.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo
More in Columns
Time for pragmatism
How do we spell relief?
A battle over fiscal control
Time for a ceasefire