[Viewpoint]Don’t take nominations lightlyThe nominations of candidates for the forthcoming legislative elections have a dual effect on Korea’s future.
The first is its immediate political effect. In general, the candidates who run on the ticket of a major party have a better chance of getting elected to the National Assembly. Because the assemblymen make the laws and keep a watch on the presidential administration, they play crucial roles in the government.
The second is the historical implications. In contemporary Korean history, there have been occasions in which the nomination system played a vital role in changing history.
Before the 12th general elections in February 1985, former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, who were opposition leaders at the time, prepared for an all-out attack against the military-backed regime under former President Chun Doo Hwan.
They established the New Korea Democratic Party by reviving the New Democratic Party, which had been crushed by late President Park Chung Hee under the totalitarian Yushin regime.
The new party adopted the strategy of creating major political bases here and there. The idea was that they would create a political boom by nominating young heroes of the democratization movement as opposition candidates in constituencies at the heart of the politically important areas.
In Seoul, they nominated Lee Chul, who had been sentenced to death in 1974 for organizing resistance against former President Park’s totalitarian regime. That sentence was later commuted. Lee’s campaign poster proclaimed, “The death row convict returns for the Seongbuk constituency.”
Other nominees included: in Busan, Moon Jung-soo, who used to be Kim Young-sam’s aide; in Daegu, Yoo Sung-hwan, a core opposition fighter; in Masan, Kang Sam-jae, a former president of the Kyung Hee University student association; in Daejeon, Song Chun-young, who belonged to the Kim Dae-jung faction; in Gwangju, Shin Ki-ha, who used to defend student activists in court, among others.
These six bunker-busters broke the military-backed government under Chun. The new party created a sudden gust of wind in the elections and ultimately succeeded in emerging as the top opposition party.
Before the 13th general election, held in April 1988, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung separated from each other and nominated their own candidates in each constituency. Kim Young-sam’s fighters were Kim Deok-ryong and Kang Sin-ok in Seoul; Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Gwang-il in Busan; and Rhee In-jae and Choi Ki-sun in Gyeonggi.
After being elected as an assemblyman, Roh Moo-hyun, who used to defend human rights activists in court as a lawyer, became popular due to his active role in the assembly hearings on former President Chun’s misrule. Fifteen years later, Roh was elected president.
Kim Young-sam nowadays says President Roh is “the person I regret most helping enter into politics.” However, there is no use in regretting the past.
The consequences of his nomination of legislator-hopefuls in 1988 had already changed the course of the presidency.
Kim Dae-jung nominated his close aides and a group of political activists as his party’s candidates. They included Lee Hae-chan, Kwon Roh-kap, Lee Sang-soo, Lee Hyup, Kim Jong-wan, Chung Sang-yong, Cho Hong-kyu, Yang Sung-woo, Oh Tan and Kim Young-jin.
The plan was successful. His party became the leading opposition party.
Lee Hae-chan defeated veteran assemblyman Kim Soo-han, who had been elected to five consecutive terms in Seoul. Later, Lee served as a prime minister under President Roh.
Among 299 assemblymen elected to the 14th assembly in March 1992, there were 118 elected for the first time as legislators. Among them was President-elect Lee Myung-bak.
He did not join the National Party led by Chung Ju-yung, the founder and former chairman of Hyundai Group. He preferred to get a nomination from the Liberal Democratic Party.
Sixteen years later, he was elected president. If Lee Myung-bak had failed to get nominated by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, it may not have been possible for him to walk the road he did ― being elected as assemblyman in Jongno, mayor of Seoul, then president of the Republic of Korea.
In April 1996, Kim Dae-jung established the National Congress for New Politics in preparation for his fourth challenge for the presidency. Kim introduced young politician-hopefuls en masse. They were Kim Keun-tae, Chung Sye-kyun, Kim Han-gill, Chun Jung-bae, Shin Ki-nam and Chung Dong-young.
They played leading roles in the Kim Dae-jung administration and continued to serve under President Roh.
Later, Chung Dong-young became the presidential candidate of the governing party and ran against Lee Myung-bak. Although Chung was a popular television newscaster, it would not have been easy for him to enter politics if he had not been nominated as a candidate of the party.
Political parties will again pick talented people and nominate them as candidates for the forthcoming elections.
Nomination applicants have rushed to the Grand National Party like people competing in a university entrance exam. Since the United New Democratic Party and the Democratic Party have merged, there will probably be some bullfights in the party over the nomination of people to certain constituencies.
Since Korea achieved democratization in the 1990s, the people who have been elected president of Korea were people nominated by a party as its candidate for the general election.
That applies not only to presidents, but also many of the prime ministers, ministers or mayors. Among them, there are many who were elected as a lawmaker on a party’s ticket.
Therefore, the party nomination system is like a womb, producing future leaders. Among the people who get nominated to run in the general election this time around, there may be people who will be the president in five, 10 or 15 or even 20 years.
The leaders and judges of the nomination committee of the Grand National Party, as well as those of the United New Democratic Party, and the observers that come from civic groups, should perform their historic duty with a solemn attitude.
Nominating candidates of a party for legislative elections is not the lottery.
The Grand National Party must choose fresh talent who can support President-elect Lee Myung Bak’s efforts to lead the nation to an advanced stage.
If one or two posts are given due to cronyism, lobbying or factional interests, the results could be disastrous.
The opposition party could lift itself out of political hell if it succeeds in finding good nominees. It should find local Joans of Arc.
Traditionally, a party prospers if it nominates talented people as its candidates, but it suffers serious defeat when it fails to find good ones.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin