All in the familyIn his New Year message, Pope Benedict XVI said peace was a “divine gift.” He said that real peace is not a simple conquest of man or a result of political agreements. His words make us all humble as we look around the globe at the beginning of the new year. One part of the globe pushes for reforms, growth and strength while the other part suffers from hatred, violence and killing, both in the name of democracy. This seems to indicate that the systems and order humankind has created are not effective at all. One of the main things that ruins peace is putting too much emphasis on racism or tribalism. Miserable events that happened early this year were all results of this problem.
In Kenya, 350 people were killed and more than 100,000 became refugees because of the presidential election on Dec. 27. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, led shortly after the vote count began, as he did in surveys. When Odinga led over President Mwai Kibaki by 50,000 votes, the count abruptly came to a halt and live TV broadcasting was stopped. The next day, the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner. Observers from the European Union are also suspicious about the election result. Things got out of control. A dispute might erupt between the Kikuyu tribe and the Luo tribe. I worry that if things get worse, something terrible might take place.
In Pakistan, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister, was assassinated. She was killed in gunfire and a suicide bomb attack soon after she ended a political rally. It is still unknown who orchestrated the killing. It is not easy to find the culprit since all other political factions targeted Bhutto. What is noticeable is that tribalism is more deeply involved here than ideology. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party is the political party of Bhutto’s family. The name Bhutto guarantees a victory in an election, and only Bhutto’s family members can become leaders of the party. It is hard to explain why they have to risk their lives to keep it that way.
In her will, Bhutto named her son Bilawal Zardari as her successor, but his father Asif Ali Zardari takes actual control of the party. The senior Zardari is known as “Mr. 10 percent” for allegedly taking 10 percent commissions while his wife Bhutto was prime minister. The name “Bhutto” was suddenly plugged into his son’s name to change it to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari so as to make him more legitimate to succeed his family’s party.
It is needless to say that those who masterminded the killing are the ones to be blamed. But Bhutto also clung to her family as the tribes in Kenya do. There seems to be hardly any difference between Bhutto and Kenyan tribes in this sense.
It is not only Pakistan where politicians cling to their families. The Gandhi and Nehru families in India were the same. Eva Peron’s case is similar, and Christine Fernandez, the president of Argentina, also took the presidency from her husband. In Japan, many politicians come from political families such as Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In the United States, George W. Bush and his father both became presidents and Senator Hillary Clinton aspires to become a president following her husband. Human instinct to stick to families seems stronger than the democracy humankind created.
However, there still is reason to hope. That is, people try to escape from this obsession. On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus. That was only the first step towards the presidential election and it is uncertain who will be the winner in the end. But the result in Iowa is still very important because that showed he has come through a glass ceiling for African-Americans. When a candidate beats a rival whose name is Clinton, the name of a successful former president, that candidate has reason to hope.
China, which has a tradition of dynasties that dates back thousands of years, has also established a system that ignores bloodlines when handing over power. Top leaders give their families certain jobs but don’t hand over absolute power.
In Korea, there are also similar abuses of regionalism or kinship. Former President Roh Tae-woo once tried to confiscate an older lawmaker’s constituency to give it to his own son. Former President Kim Young-sam was in deep trouble when he was in office because of his son’s misbehavior but he still is doing his best to hand over his former constituency to his son. Former President Kim Dae-jung made his first and second sons run for general elections one after another despite the strong opposition of his aides. In the presidential election last year, a candidate earned 80 percent of the votes in one area but earned barely 10 percent of the votes in another area. It is hard to say that the nightmares in Kenya and Rwanda belong completely to others.
*The writer is an international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook