[Outlook]Politics of chaosThe political class in Korea has launched into a frenzy with the presidential election drawing near. Whether it is the liberals close to government or the opposition parties, there are fights everywhere. But the political battles of today are not like the rows of the past. What is most distinctive is that members of the same party now fight one another. In that sense, these fights are like qualifying matches for some kind of playoff series. At times, of course, the ruling party attacks the opposition parties and vice versa. But these are tasks relegated to deputy spokespeople who have relatively little power within their parties. Veteran politicians with strong influence concentrate on internal party fights. They do not pull their punches just because they are in conflict with party mates. In contrast, they are harsher to members of their own party.
Take the fight in the Grand National Party between the top two presidential candidates. The winner of this fight will very likely win the presidential election. Thus, the stakes are high, with neither side backing down. Bitterly debating the revised rules for the party primary, one side says the revision tears democratic principles apart, while the other side denounces the self-righteousness of a party “princess.”
The presidency is not the only bet in this game. Four months after the presidential election, there will be a general election. In the general election, the new president will likely nominate as many candidates as he or she wants. By then the contenders will have hard feelings toward each other so it is hard to expect the victor to be considerate of the vanquished. Whether Lee Myung-bak, the former Seoul mayor, or Park Geun-hye, the former party chair, takes the crown, it could be hard for either of them to back off and not heap rewards on those who supported them for the primary and the presidential election. The ruling circle is also experiencing fierce infighting. The president and other politicians who used to serve as chairmen of the Uri Party blame one another for poor performance. A person who once served as the chief presidential secretary rebukes the president by telling him, “Do not take the people lightly.”
There seems to be little chance for the liberals to win the presidential election, at least for now, but still they are creating chaos. Their conflicts will not be solved easily because they are fighting over their political strategy. Behind the scenes it is a confrontation between the current president and his immediate predecessor.
Former President Kim Dae-jung wants to restore the “traditional base,” which means the combination of South and North Jeolla and the Chungcheong Provinces. This is a repeat of the union between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil, which produced a victory in the 1997 presidential election. In this plan, the existence of the Uri Party is nothing but an obstacle and there is a group within the ruling circle who share the idea, while opposing President Roh Moo-hyu.
But Roh doesn’t like this way and he refuses to go back to the Kim Dae-jung plan, instead pursuing his own line. He seems to believe that to stop regional rivalries, it is wrong to combine one region with another. For him, the Uri Party is the vessel to carry the Roh Moo-hyun line. He treasured the party so much that he even left it, saying, “I will leave the party because other people say they will leave the party if I stay.”
It is natural that politicians and political factions fight over different ideas. These disagreements will not be easily settled. But when the internal competition is finally sorted out, the final game ― the presidential election ― awaits. There is only one seat, so candidates cannot share the presidency.
The question is the method of competition. The hopefuls, whether ruling or opposition, are preoccupied with calculating the number of votes that they will win and finding ways to be ahead in that race. In last month’s by-election, the people sent a warning both to the ruling circle for incompetence and the Grand Nationals for complacency, but politicians are obsessed with their short-term interests. While pursuing that goal, they may lose something very precious.
A report released by the Goldman Sachs Group, the world’s leading investment bank, predicts a bright future for Korea. The report says that Korea and Russia will soon join the group of the world’s richest nations, with incomes second only to that of the United States. By 2050, Korea’s per capita income will be higher than $90,000 dollars per year. That part pleasantly surprised me and gave me hope that our next generations will be better off than the current one.
But that achievement will not come by itself, and our economy can still suffer from the politics of chaos. I worry that today’s political leaders may yet ruin the bright future awaiting future generations.
*The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Gyo-joon