[Viewpoint]Crises can be an advantageThe three groups in Korea most noted for their strong sense of connection ― some would call it cronyism ― are the hometown association of people hailing from the Honam region, the Korea University alumni association and the Marine Corps veterans’ association.
Candidate Lee Myung-bak is a Korea University alumnus. A rumor went around once that Korea University alumni had created a human curtain around candidate Lee. Since then, Lee has intentionally avoided letting Korea University graduates get close to him.
In another instance recently a funny rumor circulated that Korea University alumni were helping Lee Myung-bak by exerting all their efforts and sacrificing themselves.
I could not help laughing when I heard what followed. The “sacrificing” people were Byeon Yang-kyun, the former chief of policy planning at the Blue House, and Kim Yong-cheol, the former Samsung legal affairs chief, who exposed his former employer’s financial scandals.
Byeon and Kim are both Korea University graduates. There is absolutely zero chance that they created the scandals engulfing them to help candidate Lee get elected.
However, the incidents seem to have worked in candidate Lee’s favor.
I was amazed at the political sense of the people who turned those incidents into a joke.
The scandal around Shin Jeong-ah’s academic degree forgery started in early July.
It eclipsed the Grand National Party’s primary, which had the effect of mitigating the damage from revelations that Lee registered a false address to facilitate his children’s education.
Shin’s degree forgery hogged the attention of the media and the people, so Lee benefited from the resulting divided attention of the public.
When the scandal uncovered her connection to the former presidential policy chief, by design or not, the affair affected the presidential election campaign.
It also became one of the reasons former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, who was the front-runner in the pro-Roh Moo-hyun liberal faction, lost the United New Democratic Party’s presidential primary. That drastically reduced the chance that President Roh could intervene in the presidential election.
It also weakened the will to realign the political forces of the Honam region with the progressives, which was the support base of the governing party.
As a result, candidate Lee could avoid attacks from his rivals for some time.
Kim’s disclosure of the financial scandals related to the Samsung Group did not have a bad effect on candidate Lee, either. Instead it played a role in preventing Lee’s approval rating from falling due to rivals’ attacks linking him to the BBK scandal. It also had the effect of dispersing people’s attention from the BBK scandal.
The old saying goes, “There is a way out of any crisis, even if you are chronically ill and in your 80s.” But people naturally desire a long and healthy life while avoiding crises if they can.
In the political arena, where power collisions, conspiracies and trickery are rampant, everyone experiences crises.
Your career ends if you fail to turn that crisis into an opportunity. If you fail in the face of a crisis, there is no way out ― you become a loser.
The BBK scandal and the candidacy of Lee Hoi-chang in the presidential race were the greatest crises for candidate Lee Myung-bak.
Although eight days still remain until the presidential election, the signs so far show that he has managed disheartening factors well.
Everyone faces a few crises during a presidential race. Since the BBK scandal seemed quite convincing and appeared to have great destructive power, the governing party put all its effort into riding it.
The political situation created by the presidential election in the second half of this year started with the BBK scandal and would be rounded out with it.
The controversy over the false employment of candidate Lee’s son and daughter at his building management office was buried under the news that Kim Kyung-joon was being returned here to face investigation.
From candidate Lee’s perspective, the BBK scandal played the role of good bait.
Candidate Lee overcame the damage from Lee Hoi-chang’s candidacy by inducing his former party chairwoman Park Geun-hye to his side and by making his close aide, Lee Jae-oh, a scapegoat.
What is the situation now? Candidate Lee Myung-bak has an approval rating of over 40 percent, and candidates Lee Hoi-chang and Chung Dong-young are fighting fiercely for second place, with 15 to 20 percent, respectively.
If Lee Hoi-chang did not jump into the race, the presidential election would have become a race between Lee Myung-bak and Chung Dong-young. What would have happened if the governing party succeeded in unifying the candidates of all the pro-government forces?
Around this time, it could have become a very close game between the two. The candidacy of Lee Hoi-chang has largely reduced the chance of changes in the presidential race, whether he intended it or not.
Unfavorable factors can end up having a positive effect if they are managed well. Candidate Lee Myung-bak seems to have succeeded in this respect.
The ability to manage crises in politics is a big asset. However, ethics and the ability to manage crises are two different things. Even if candidate Lee becomes president, the shadow of suspicions about his ethical standards will continue to hold him down.
It will not be solved by donating his fortune to society.
Therefore, candidate Lee should choose to become “a president who works well,” rather than try to be an “ethical president” or a “respected president.”
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo