[Viewpoint]Presidential losers still facing hardshipsWhich of our politicians do you think felt the most heartbreak after the 2007 presidential election? It must be the defeated candidates: Chung Dong-young, who lost by a record margin since the amendment of the Constitution in 1986; Rhee In-je of the Democratic Party, who got less than 1 percent of the vote although he took pride in being the candidate of the traditional opposition party of the past 50 years; and Kwon Young-ghil of the Democratic Labor Party, which now faces an internal crisis due to Kwon’s diminishing support.
All three of them may be feeling wretched by now. President Roh Moo-hyun, who is being blamed for causing the disastrous defeat of the liberals in the presidential election, may now find it hard to remain in politics.
Former President Kim Dae-jung, who continuously tried to guide the politicians despite widespread criticism, probably does not feel comfortable, either.
Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the Liberty Forward Party, and Sohn Hak-kyu, the new chairman of the United New Democratic Party, must not be feeling any better.
The two may be having an even tougher time than the others. Chairman Lee failed twice before in his bids for the presidency.
And then Lee Myung-bak, whom the elder Lee had nominated as the Grand National Party’s candidate for mayor of Seoul when Lee Hoi-chang was chairman of the party, was elected as president with ease, despite numerous ethical concerns. Lee Hoi-chang may resent such unfairness.
What would have happened if Chairman Sohn had remained in the Grand National Party and participated in the party primary? It would have been difficult for him to become the party’s candidate, but he would have received support from both Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye toward the end of the party primary.
Had he stayed, he would have become the second man in the party’s hierarchy and secured his own faction.
He could have become a “responsible prime minister” to share a large part of the presidential authority with the president, or the chairman of the ruling party.
However, he chose to bolt from the GNP, participated in the governing party’s primary election and lost. By all assumptions, he was ruined.
It is said that there are no assumptions in history. There certainly aren’t any in politics. The fate of a political leader can fall to the ground with only one wrong choice. There is no way for Lee Hoi-chang or Sohn Hak-kyu to go back to the past to make a new choice. The only thing left for them now is to try to do their best in their current situation.
The interesting thing is that these two have changed greatly since their departure from the Grand National Party. Both of them graduated from Kyunggi High School and Seoul National University. And both of them have had colorful experiences and careers.
But neither man pursued his own personal comfort by compromising with social injustice.
They led honest and earnest lives and made distinct accomplishments in their fields. However, in the eyes of the people, they were seen as “upper class,” part of the “elite.” The two politicians seem to be overcoming this handicap now.
They finally look like politicians. They even demonstrated political capability that they did not show while they were in the Grand National Party.
Lee Hoi-chang does not look awkward in casual clothes anymore. It seems natural for him to be seen talking to the disabled or street vendors. He can even shrug off being pelted with eggs, saying, “I’ll just consider it an egg massage.”
When signs of internal divisions in his party started to surface after the presidential election, he overcame them by immediately using his considerable political influence, saying he would not run in the legislative elections in April and his close aides would not intervene in party politics.
Sohn Hak-kyu, who used to be seen as a stubborn “model student,” has also changed. He has overcome the handicap of being a former GNP member to become the chairman of the new liberal party. As soon as he became the party’s chairman, he demanded changes from his party’s left-leaning progressives and began embracing a “third way.”
He sought quickly to reform the party’s nomination system, reminding them that an “easy party nomination process means an easy death.” This includes pushing to reform the party’s nomination of candidates for constituencies in the Honam region: “The new party needs to show new faces in the Honam area, the most important power base of the party.”
Hardships make people more mature. If they have truly changed, it must be because of the desperation they felt when falling to the bottom. Things were dark for them right after the presidential election, but some signs of hope have started to appear. There are signs that sentiment is slowly growing for an effective check on the Lee Myung-bak administration. The fact that the arrogance of the rich tends to leave Koreans cold also gives hope to Lee Hoi-chang and Sohn Hak-kyu.
There is still a long way to go. The “original sin” of bolting from their own party will haunt them and cause trouble for them as long as they are in politics. If they decide to run in the forthcoming legislative elections and settle down, their promotion of authentic conservatism and middle-of-the-road progressivism will lose steam. If they overcome it, then they truly will be reborn as opposition leaders.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo