A candidate to rememberJin Bok-gi spiced up Korea’s presidential elections in the past. In an election campaign in which the military regime and democratic forces fought fiercely, Jin brought a precious gift to the people ― smiles. He ran for the presidency only once.
In 1971, the year of the seventh presidential election, he registered as a candidate of the Justice Party and earned 122,914 votes, 1 percent of the vote total. But he was a presidential candidate for his entire life. Until 1997, whenever there was a presidential election, he visited newspapers and kept asking them to write articles about him.
Ko Un, one of Korea’s leading poets, portrayed Jin in his book “Ten Thousand Lives.” In the poem, Ko adores Jin’s appearance, smile and naive campaigns. Jin was the only leader of the Justice Party, which is quite a funny name for a political party. Countless candidates have come and gone in presidential elections, but Jin has become a typical minor candidate, and people still feel nostalgia when they hear his name. That is because he did not have any political and devilish tricks. As Ko described him, Jin did not have a majestic air and did not have any enmity or ill intention. All he had was his smile.
As of Wednesday, 55 people have registered as presidential hopefuls at the National Election Commission. The 55 wrote down a wide variety of occupations on their forms. In the ruling circle there are more than a dozen would-be presidents, according to Kim Geun-tae. If they register, the number of candidates will rise to around 70.
Not all of them can pay 500 million won ($520,000) for escrow and run to the end. Among them, many have lost in National Assembly or local elections.
Some need support or interest from inside their party. They aim for last-minute deals. Some want to gather support for the next presidential election. But they all might turn out to be a “fake Jin Bok-gi.” Some can pair with others and play as a team, as short-track skaters do. When a weak candidate plays the bad guy and attacks a rival, the race becomes a lot easier for his teammate. There are indications of this tactic already.
Even considering all this, there are too many candidates. It is hard to have a debate, and it becomes hard to probe every candidate.
But Kim Geun-tae gave up his bid inside his party, and withdrew. Kim’s withdrawal deserves to be called a beautiful one. Other presidential hopefuls must follow his lead if they figure out they are not any better. That is a way to help voters. No matter how hard they may try, they cannot be remembered like Jin Bok-gi.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin-kook [firstname.lastname@example.org]