[Outlook]The right place to bury the hatchetLess than one week remains before the final showdown between Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. Many worry if they can work with each other after their furious battle. But this fight has not gone too far. Neither of them refused to have a party primary, or leave the party.
Fighting is a basic trait of campaigns for a party primary but in Korea’s political history the Democratic Liberal Party’s primary of 1992 represents a bad memory.
In May 1992, Kim Young-sam, who used to belong to an opposition party, and Lee Jong-chan, who had been in the ruling party throughout, competed.
Kim was supported by then President Roh Tae-woo and most of the Democratic Liberals. He took a dominating position at an early stage. Lee was supported by his alliance. His commander-in-chief was Park Tae-joon, then chairman of Posco, supported by Park Chul-un, the prince of the Sixth Republic. Lee demanded a fair party primary, TV debates and joint speeches at the party primary. But Kim avoided all his demands. In the end, two days before the primary, Lee declared that he would not take part when the winner had already been decided. The party primary was held but it was like a communist party coronation, which made Roh and Kim furious.
The real story starts after the primary. Kim extended his hand to Lee and the two Parks, but they would not take it. Lee moved to a new party, so Kim gave up on him. In October that year, Kim visited Park Tae-joon in Gwangyang, South Jeolla. The meeting lasted for almost four hours. Kim persistently asked Park to support him and tried to persuade him. But Park has already made up his mind. He thought Kim was ignorant about state affairs. Park left the Democratic Liberal Party and announced that he would concentrate on business. However, he gave secretive support to Chung Ju-yung of the United People’s Party.
Park Chul-un ignored Kim even more emphatically than Park and he left the party in October. He moved to Lee’s new party and then to Chung’s party. Park Chul-un positioned himself against Kim, not only in the party primary but also in the presidential election.
As soon as Kim was elected president, he sought revenge. The prosecution, which was loyal to President Kim, searched for corruption in Posco and in Park Chul-un’s affairs. Around two weeks after Kim entered office Park Tae-joon left for Japan, to begin a nomadic existence. He was reported to have received a bribe of some 5 billion won ($5.1 million). He was seen as a brazen suspect until the accusation was dropped in 1996.
Prosecutor Hong Joon-pyo went after Park Chul-un, who was indicted for receiving a bribe from a businessman who sold slot machines. Park spent 16 months in prison and still maintains he is not guilty.
In 1979 when the despotic government of that time removed Kim Young-sam from his position as a lawmaker he shouted, “Even if you break the rooster’s neck, the morning still breaks.” When Park was heading for prison, he borrowed this line. He said, “You can complain that the morning has broken, but why break the rooster’s neck?”
These stories about the two Parks represent the most severe cases of political revenge in Korea’s political history.
The party primary has become part of the backbone of politics in Korea. We will have many primaries in the future. Many hopefuls will use negative campaigning or make blacklists or spread rumors that their rival will certainly lose in the presidential election.
But what’s important about a party primary is cooperation among contenders after it is over.
Park Tae-joon and Park Chul-un must have had good reasons for not supporting Kim. They probably did not want to run in the primary when President Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam had already contrived the result. They probably did not like Kim because he does not read much. But the 1992 party primary was the first one in a ruling party. We could not expect too much from a first step. Lee Jong-chan’s camp should have compromised with Kim’s in the hope of winning in the future, no matter how bitter it may have felt at that time. Then he might have had fewer thoughts of revenge.
In the United States, when John McCain and George W. Bush fought for the party nomination in 2002, McCain criticized Bush more than most. But when the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks broke out, McCain became a strong supporter of Bush’s war on terrorism.
After the Grand National Party’s primary, it will be good for Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye to suffer from amnesia.
They should forget such remarks as “endless layers of suspicion,” or “a woman who has not given birth.” They should try to bury the hatchet, but not in each other.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin