[Outlook]What about the issues?

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[Outlook]What about the issues?

When Kim Kyung-joon landed at Incheon International Airport, his face showed the confidence of a hero, even though his hands were in handcuffs and covered with a piece of cloth. In the three weeks since then, the presidential election campaign has danced to the crazy tune of the song that Kim’s family sung. With the candidates busy debating and fighting over the BBK case, there has been no room for policies to be discussed. In light of this, the Financial Times wrote on Wednesday that democracy in Korea is immature.
Kim Yang-gon, director of the United Front Department of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, visited Seoul and met with President Roh Moo-hyun. Kim Jong-il’s close aide paying a visit to Seoul is an unusual event, but none of the presidential candidates asked why he came. At around the same time, Christopher Hill, the U.S. top envoy to the six-party talks, flew to Pyongyang and Baek Jong-chun, the presidential secretary for national security, went to Washington. South Korea hopes that the leaders of four countries will end the Korean War. Meanwhile, the United States seems ready to announce a complete resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue. Although South Korea and the United States seem to have different wishes about the same situation, South Korea’s presidential candidates do not show interest in this matter.
With a U.S. presidential election scheduled for next year, President George W. Bush is in need of a diplomatic achievement. This opens the possibility that Washington will declare North Korea’s nuclear issue resolved before the North actually abandons its nuclear weapons and does what it has to normalize ties with the rest of the world. Can North Korea’s promise to abandon its nuclear weapons be regarded as a resolution when there is no guarantee that the North will keep its promise? Lee Myung-bak, the Grand National candidate, and Lee Hoi-chang, an independent, hardly respond to this urgent issue. One wonders if they are even aware of what is happening. If they haven’t heard of it before, they should look into what President Bush said to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda during their summit meeting on Nov. 16.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration, which employed former student activists as officials, imposed the composite real estate tax to attack the rich. Nearly 400,000 people suffer from this tax bomb. Last year, the tax revenue from owners of expensive or multiple houses was 450 billion won ($487 million). That increased by 2.7 times this year, surpassing 1.24 trillion won. Taxes on one apartment surged by 5.6 times compared to last year, according to an editorial in the Dec. 4 Chosun Ilbo. While taxpayers who got billed under the composite real estate tax are upset and suffering, President Roh and his men must be wearing crooked smiles of satisfaction. But the presidential candidates only make vague promises saying they would adjust the tax if they assume power.
The Roh administration also shut down press rooms in government offices to limit journalists’ access to government workers, a move that is unthinkable in our times. But none of the presidential candidates visited the spot where journalists write in the hallways of government buildings in protest. One does not expect presidential candidates to produce noble quotes like Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. He once said were it left to him to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter. But candidates could go to the spot where the media is oppressed by the Roh administration and renew their understanding of the people’s rights. They should learn to avoid doing what the current president has done. Bearing hard feelings about certain media outlets, Roh expressed his resentment to the entire media, a thoughtless move and one not suitable for our times.
Kim Kyung-joon’s crazy song is over now. But the presidential candidates other than Lee Myung-bak, plan to stage a protest.
If they do so, only voters will be damaged. Voters have so far heard about only big projects, such as building a cross-country waterway or reforming university entrance systems, from the presidential candidates.
There are no debates examining whether a large-scale construction project should be a top priority at a time in which things happen in smaller units and at faster intervals. This is different from former times when large-scale projects were carried out over long period.
Without appropriate debates, there are no grounds for voters to make rational decisions before casting their votes.
If some have objections to the prosecutors’ BBK investigation, they must raise questions one by one and ask the prosecutors to answer them, instead of planning a candlelit vigil or proposing an independent council to investigate the case further. They must go back to policy debates.
It is shameful that our situation is so bad that the editorial in the Nov. 28 issue of the Asahi Shimbun gave us advice. “East Asia is in a period of great transition. We hope candidates will engage in constructive debates that are also relevant to audiences in neighboring countries.”

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-hie
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