[Outlook]Power tripsYesterday, well-wishers gathered to celebrate the 80th birthday of former President Kim Young-sam in a hotel in Seoul. I had worked for two years in the Blue House as an aide to the chief of staff during Kim’s presidency. So I felt well enough acquainted with the ex-president to attend the event.
Fifteen years ago Kim become the 14th president of Korea. When he entered the Blue House on Feb. 25, 1993, his approval ratings were higher than 90 percent. Shortly after his inauguration, they soared to 97 percent.
After the inauguration in Yeouido, Kim rode through Gwanghwamun to reach the Blue House where jubilant crowds forced him out of his car. Thousands had poured onto the streets to greet their new leader.
Kim shook hands with them and took his first steps into the Blue House amid a roar of applause.
Five years later, it was a different story. When Kim retired, he was politically bankrupt. In the midst of the financial crisis that hit Korea in 1997, Kim was met with cold looks and cynicism, a far cry from the applause that echoed in his ears on his first day as president.
When he exited the Blue House for the last time, Kim had to drive fast to his own house in Sangdo-dong, Seoul, in case there was an incident.
Kim’s story is not unique. President Roh Moo-hyun was so overjoyed when he won the presidential election on Dec. 19, 2002, that he and his aides celebrated by shouting “Remember Dec. 19” on the anniversary of his victory a year later.
Ahn Hee-jung, one of Roh’s closest aides, admits that President Roh has absolutely no political future following his term of office.
It just goes to show that when you assume power, it is like flying to the top of a mountain in a helicopter; but losing power is like descending in bare feet.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak recently made a resolution that when he is inaugurated, he will think about how the people and the world will evaluate him in 2013.
This was the same approach he adopted when he become the mayor of Seoul in 2002. He said he would work hard and do things in a fair way.
This is a reasonable attitude. When you’re boss, you naturally worry about your legacy and how you will be viewed later. This makes you more modest.
The problem lies with those waiting in the wings. They can easily become intoxicated by power.
Coincidently, the legislative elections will take place shortly after the Lee Myung-bak administration takes office.
So, those involved in the new administration appear busy as they work with the transition team. But in reality, they are more interested in capturing more power.
Key members of the president elect’s team seem more interested in winning seats in the National Assembly.
They want to enjoy the sweet taste of power rather than undertake jobs in the Blue House ― duties in the president’s administration are harder to carry out.
It is thought that aides who have been working hard for Lee may want to withdraw as soon as possible. But those around Lee are thought to be preparing for the April legislative elections.
The worry is that the legislative elections will mimic the last presidential election ― conservatives prevailing over the progressives.
This means the new power could drown in its own success, a victim of its own achievements.
In the last legislative elections, the Uri Party had an advantage following public rejection of Roh’s impeachment. Anyone who ran as a Uri Party nominee, regardless of their competence or qualifications, was elected. Drunk on excessive power, the Uri party became arrogant. That led to its eventual downfall.
Therefore, those who set out to climb a mountain must remember four things.
First, they must not get drunk on power.
Second, they need to stay alert and maintain their integrity. Third, they must be prepared to descend on bare feet.
Last, they shouldn’t think they can change their destiny by working in politics. Instead, they should regard politics as their destiny.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong