[Outlook]A barbecue in BonghaPresident Roh Moo-hyun will leave office on Feb. 24, 2008. He will be the first Korean president to return to his hometown after leaving office. His residence is under construction in Bongha Village, Bonsan-ri, Jinyeong-eup, Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province. That is around 400 kilometers away from the Blue House.
But it doesn’t seem that President Roh will distance himself from politics in Seoul. He is different from former presidents who want to appear like they have left the world behind. He is reportedly determined not to step backward on issues that are important to him, such as inter-Korean relations, balanced growth and reduced social polarization. He has even added a dash of politics to his return home. He said it was the duty for a president who has pursued balanced development to return to his hometown.
He will likely raise his voice even more after retirement. He demands that the next administration inherit and develop his policies. It is expected that he will urge his supporters to demand the next administration protect his policies. President Roh even criticizes the policies of the Grand National Party presidential candidate because they are different from his own. The opposition party candidate’s policies are supposed to be different from those of the president. But he cannot accept that. He is determined to “fight against those who lie until the last moment.”
Therefore, President Roh Moo-hyun’s retirement won’t mean his exit from politics.
President Roh often perplexed the nation. Despite warnings from the election committee, he has electioneered in an explicit and active manner. Some say that his intervention, given his unpopularity, lowered the approval ratings of the new liberal party and its presidential hopefuls. Even a group of people who are close to the president, inside the new party, felt uncomfortable about the president’s intervention. But he didn’t seem to care.
A president’s aide that the president called a “partner” said that keeping one’s political convictions is important and if one loses an election while sticking to principle, that is beyond one’s control. That explains why the new party is filled with people who think supporting Roh and his policies is more important than winning the presidential election.
It is reported that the president often advised people around him to enter politics. He used to do that when he appointed them as ministers or deputy ministers. He reportedly told presidential secretaries or executives of public corporations to run for election and he seems to be deeply interested in the next general election.
He probably wants to get his supporters to emphasize the legitimacy of his policies to the voters and hopes they will be elected to the National Assembly. A large number of these people have their political base in Busan or South Gyeongsang. The president probably feels a strong need to build pro-Roh forces in the Gyeongsang provinces as a balance against supporters of former President Kim Dae-jung in the Jeolla provinces.
What is going on in Bongha Village needs to be understood in this context. The site he will use covers 33,000 square meters. Several buildings are under construction. In one of them, a lot of people can stay at the same time. The site is too big to be used just by his own family. Roh’s aides or supporters explain that the construction in the village is a part of a campaign to revive farming villages. But looking into President Roh’s remarks, there seems to be more to it than that.
At the Participatory Government Evaluation Forum, he once said that the future of Korea’s democracy depends on Nosamo, an official group of his supporters. He also revealed his plan to build a place for Nosamo in his hometown. He probably has a plan to call Nosamo members to his residence, train them collectively and enhance their comradeship while having a barbecue party. The place will look like a training center for politicians.
If President Roh was able to leave office with applause ringing in his ears he would probably not feel sorry for what he has failed to accomplish and so his retirement plan would be different. In this sense, his plan to build his Roh Moo-hyun town has something to do with the low valuation placed on his period in office and his low approval ratings. But the question is whether his efforts will come to fruition. In the political arena, it is impossible for one person to keep his clout and power forever. He should not mistake recklessness for an indomitable fighting spirit.
*The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Gyo-joon