[Outlook]Disappointing politics

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[Outlook]Disappointing politics

The Grand National Party will hold a hearing to evaluate its presidential hopefuls today.
Unfortunately, the campaigns working for the party’s two strongest contenders have been working so hard trying to find flaws in their opponents that the people have grown weary of the spectacle.
The bitter battles between the partisans of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye have been making headlines almost every day, but watching this long and ultimately destructive battle is enough to leave one disappointed, empty and worried.
The people feel disappointed because they had high expectations for this race. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Korea’s democratization, and we want a president who is truly qualified for such an honorable position of trust.
We no longer want a president who accumulates an astronomical amount of money through corruption, or a president whose children and aides are jailed because of all kinds of wrongdoing.
We also don’t want another trouble making and unreliable president. We hope that our next president will be good enough by international standards to restore our pride in the office.
Up until last month, with about six months to go before the election, the people expected the candidates to compete fairly for the top job and offer their long-term vision and policies for the country. We did not expect the aspirants’ campaigns to descend to the level of a street fight in their bid for power.
But last month, the two GNP campaigns ripped our expectations to pieces.
Even though they are comrades in the same party, their competition has not been conducted in the manner we would expect from members of the same party. Their fight has been more like a turf battle between rival back-alley gangs.
After the disappointment, the people began to feel rather empty because the GNP has not been able to exercise any authority over the contenders even though it must mediate their competition as a fair referee.
Of course, the Grand National Party did set up a committee to evaluate the presidential hopefuls and placed several social leaders from various fields on the panel. It seemed to be a sign that the party had the will to filter out unqualified presidential aspirants.
But when the committee announced its midterm report on June 22, it looked like its purpose was really just to protect the hopefuls rather than seriously evaluate them, even though it must have been hard to be a fair judge when the party is so sharply divided between the two strong contenders.
Today’s hearing on the hopefuls’ qualifications is not expected to filter out the unqualified or render harsh judgments either.
The Grand National Party does not seem capable of carrying out an act of self-purification. The evaluation committee does not appear able to guarantee the standards of the candidates because no matter how hard it may try, it does not have the criteria or the will to pass or fail certain presidential candidates.
So the people are worried. The concern is not about whether power will be shifted or whether a certain presidential hopeful will be elected.
The worry is about the future of our country and the possibility that the people might have nothing but distrust and disgust for politics.
If the condemnations uttered by the two frontrunners against each other prove to be true, neither of them would be qualified to become president.
The logic of the criticism would show that they have both lived lives of privilege and accumulated wealth by illegal or corrupt means. It is dangerous to leave the country in the hands of such people.
If the condemnations turn out to be groundless, it is almost as disturbing. It means that false charges have been made by people who will do anything in the quest for power.
If they will defame their comrades, they are capable of doing much worse. Thus, even if the party assumes power, we could not expect an administration much different from that of Roh Moo-hyun, which created nothing but chaos and division, even though the people made his party the majority in the National Assembly.
For politics to become more advanced, conservatives and progressives must develop together through fair competition. That is why the people want the Grand National Party to be a party of wise conservatives.
Another basic factor in democracy is that the people remain interested and engaged in politics and actively participate to make a better future for their community.
With five months still to go before the presidential election, the hopefuls must present a vision, principles and a sense of hope that can dispel the feeling of disappointment, emptiness and worry.
In the 2002 election, turnout hit a record low. Politicians must do their best to prevent participation from sinking even lower this year.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Hong-sik
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