[Viewpoint]Traps lie along path to a unified candidate

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[Viewpoint]Traps lie along path to a unified candidate

There are people who are watching nervously as the approval rating of President Roh Moo-hyun goes up from the 10 percent range to the 30 percent range. Some people may think I am referring to the presidential hopefuls of the Grand National Party, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, but they are off the mark.
We should wait and see whether Mr. Roh’s rising approval ratings will help those two.
Of course, it is not a desirable situation for the candidates of the opposition party, who have to win the support of the people by criticizing the current administration’s misdeeds.
In order to prevent the pro-government camp from electing a single presidential candidate, President Roh needs to keep a certain amount of power.
As long as it does not go too high, a 30 to 40 percent approval rating for President Roh can be beneficial for the Grand National Party candidates, Lee and Park.
The pro-government camp is the one worried about the current situation.
The irony is that it’s not a minority, but a majority of them who are concerned.
Most of the Uri Party members, except those belonging to the pro-Roh faction, must be concerned.
For the unified new-party faction who declared a breakup with President Roh and left the governing party, it is a grave situation that threatens their reason for bolting from the party and their own political destinies.
To the members of the Democratic Party, President Roh is a husband who left his devoted wife once he became successful. For them, who have been on bad terms with President Roh for the past four years, his rising approval rating is certainly not desirable.
It is embarrassing for the progressives and left wing, too. After all, they kept their distance from the president when his approval rating was at the bottom, calling him a traitor or a neo-liberal.
In any case, it is the people who promote a grand union of all anti-Grand National Party forces who are the most perplexed.
For them, the vital task is keeping the Grand National Party from grasping political power, rather than the president’s goal of overcoming regionalism.
In order to achieve that goal, the pro-government camp should not allow several presidential candidates to run (and divide the progressive vote).
Since there are no pro-government candidates who can on their own compete with Lee and Park of the Grand National Party, the real power that would decide the pro-government camp candidate rests with either President Roh or former President Kim.
Therefore, the supporters of a grand union among pro-government factions have already concluded that the most urgent task is preventing dissension between President Roh and former President Kim Dae-jung.
Since the former president expressed his support for a unified candidate long ago, the next task left is to press and persuade President Roh to accept the idea.
Kim Dae-jung emphasizes only one message to pro-government camp candidates who come to meet with him: the importance of unifying pro-government candidates.
He tells them: “Two-party politics suits the nature of our people,” and, “The people are hoping for a one-on-one battle between the pro-government camp and the opposition camp at this year’s presidential election.”
Kim said to former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, who came to visit him at his residence in Donggyo District, “There is nothing we cannot do, if President Roh and I combine forces.” He wanted to relay a message to President Roh: Forget about making a “pro-Roh candidate” and follow me.
Kim used the expression “Let’s combine forces,” but it was the same as asking President Roh to wave the white flag of surrender.
Former prime ministers Lee Hae-chan and Han Myeong-sook, and lawmakers Moon Hee-sang and Yoo Ihn-tae, who assumed the posts of the first-term presidential chief of staff and senior presidential secretary for political affairs respectively, have told President Roh recently they will stand on the side of a grand union.
The pro-Roh faction is on the verge of becoming a minority.
But at last, President Roh has stepped back a little. He has changed his stance, accepting the general trend and saying, “Righteousness is the most important thing in politics, but one should not engage in politics that go against the current trend.”
Then will we see the pro-government camp candidates unified?
Approval ratings have provided a litmus test for the president.
President Roh is circumspect now because he feels that it is disadvantageous for him to stand alone against the supporters of a grand union, but he is not known for enduring a forced submission. Moreover, he wants to leave a legacy as the president who abolished regional-based politics.
Therefore, President Roh will start to launch a counter-attack as soon as the process of forming a grand union slows down due to the conflicting interests of different political factions, or if the participants so much as whisper criticism that the grand union is nothing but a return to the old Democratic Party.
This is the reason the supporters of the notion of a grand union among progressive candidates may say that the rising approval rating of President Roh can be disastrous for the efforts to unify the candidates of the pro-government camp.
However, retaliation is only possible when one has the power to do so. If the approval ratings go back down to the 10 percent range, Roh will have to stay silent even if he has a chance to talk. In that case, the presidential race this year will go the way Kim Dae-jung wants.
It is not normal at all that presidential candidates are decided by a power game between former and incumbent presidents.
The power play between the two has nothing to do with the people.
So it is up to the people to decide whether to tolerate it or to judge against it. Politics must not go beyond the judgment of the people.

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

by Kim Du-woo
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