[Viewpoint]Measure a candidate by followers’ intensityOne day in September 1995, more than two years before the 1997 presidential election, I abruptly asked former President Kim Young-sam during an exclusive interview, “Isn’t Kim Dae-jung a strong candidate for the opposition party in the next presidential election?” I did so hoping to provoke the former president, because the interview was proving insubstantial.
Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung were old comrades who fought for democratization side by side, yet the two would never acknowledge the other as a leader. Kim Young-sam, who had maintained his composure and answered every question with a smile, said angrily, “Who spoke such nonsense?” He sounded like he did not want to see Kim Dae-jung become president.
However, a few months later, Lee Won-jong, then the senior presidential secretary for political affairs, unexpectedly told me, “I think Kim Dae-jung will probably win the next presidential election.” It was a surprise to hear the official known as “the spokesman of Kim Young-sam’s deep thoughts,” and “the chief of all presidential secretaries” say such a thing.
I asked him what was behind his remark. He answered, “The reason why Kim Young-sam, who entered the tiger’s den by agreeing to the merger of three parties, became president was because the members of the Sangdo-dong faction were united with a determination to share their fate together. I think the members of the Dongyo-dong faction are doing the same thing now. There is no political faction like that in the Democratic Liberal Party.” Although there were a lot of twists and turns along the way, Kim Dae-jung won the 1997 presidential election, as Lee had predicted.
Needless to say, “boss politics,” in which political heavyweights lead their own factions, like the Sangdo-dong or Dongyo-dong factions, does not exist anymore. There are no retainers who swear loyalty to their political masters ― charismatic leaders of which we don’t see much anymore. That kind of old-fashioned politics deserves to disappear.
Yet, the remark by Lee still holds true in politics today. Following in former President Kim Dae-jung’s footsteps, President Roh Moo-hyun was elected the same way.
He had a voluntary fan club, “Ro Sa Mo (People who love Roh Moo-hyun),” and he had followers like Chun Jung-bae, Rhyu Simin, Lee Kahng-chul, Yum Dong-hyun, Lee Kwang-jae and Ahn Hee-jung.
When I met them during the 2002 presidential race, all of them said, “If Roh loses this election, I will quit politics, too.”
Weren’t there more people on the side of candidate Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party at the time? Of course. Since candidate Lee’s side seemed to have overwhelmingly higher chances of winning the election, his election camp was overflowing with people holding a greedy desire to get a high post in the new government.
However, it was difficult to find a person who staked his life or political career on the election of candidate Lee.
I never saw a person who said, “I will quit politics, too, if Lee loses.”
A high “human wall” was established around candidate Lee and it made people around him feel relieved. It also blinded Lee, causing him to avoid making the necessary decisions. The “Kim Dae-eop wave,” which was created by a former military petty officer’s falsehood that Lee Hoi-chang’s two sons illegally evaded military duty certainly had an influence on Lee’s loss, but the fact that he did not have sacrificial people around him was a great part of the reason he failed.
One key point to observe in the 2007 presidential election is the power of unity among the people in each election camp.
It is hard to send away people who approach election camps, because that is the reality of politics. People who crowd into an election camp hoping to get a high post in the next government or a place on the party ticket for the legislative election the following year are also needed in a presidential election.
Since the election camps of rival candidates point their sword of verification against each other and attack their rivals, it is hard to judge which side is right. In such a situation, it is useful to use the degree of “sacrificial spirit” and unity among the people in an election camp as standards of judgment.
It is useful to find out how many people empathize with their candidate how many self-sacrificing volunteers work for the candidate, and how many politicians are ready to risk their political careers for the candidate.
People who gathered around a candidate for their personal interests can easily leave when the candidate’s approval ratings fall or the camp confronts a crisis. By contrast, the words and deeds of people who are full of conviction have a great infectious power.
If a candidate is surrounded by such people, it means the candidate has a special gift that goes beyond promising ministerial, vice-ministerial posts, positions of senior presidential secretaries or promising to recommend associates as candidates to run in legislative elections.
Unlike a civil servant or a judge, a politician needs to be attractive in this way. If one wants to be president, one should be even more attractive in this way. Only then can one solve social, political and class conflicts when gets the job.
A politician’s attractiveness as a candidate is made up of human attraction, beliefs that can move the hearts of the people, a vision others can empathize with, and a conviction for the future.
Grand National Party candidates Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye need to check the people around them at this point. They need to check how many people are willing to risk their political lives to get them elected.
There are about 20 candidate-hopefuls vying to become the presidential candidate of their parties. They should also look around them. If no one is willing to risk his life for him (or her), it would be better for those hopefuls to fold up their dreams and quit the race as soon as possible.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo