[Outlook]Clinging to powerA great alpinist thinks about the downhill climb before going up a mountain. That is because the way back down is as hard as, or even harder than, the climb up. Conquering the peak of a mountain is only half the journey. It is said that an climber feels more joy at the foot of a mountain, after the trek is completed, than on the peak.
But some are so caught up in the happiness of conquering the top that they forget that they also need to get back down. For such people, a downhill climb is a painful, dangerous journey.
The situation is the same with power. Former President Chun Doo Hwan put the restriction of a single-term presidency on himself. He had no choice because his power lacked legitimacy, but he didn’t want to give it up in his later stages in office. He attempted to revise the Constitution to institute a parliamentary government and created a national commission of senior advisors. Even though he couldn’t become the president again, he wanted to hold on to power through the ruling party or by gaining absolute power. However, what awaited him were hearings, the Baekdam Buddhist Temple and a detention center in Seoul. Chun successfully appointed Roh Tae-woo, who had long been submissive to and supportive of Chun, as his successor, but it didn’t help.
Korea is not alone in having these types of leaders. Powerful figures in many other countries persistently refuse to step down. And this doesn’t mean only dictators who refuse to accept democracy. Leaders in democratic countries do the same thing. Compared to more serious cases, the story of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her husband Nestor Kitchner is relatively harmless. As the law prohibits a person from being re-elected into office, the wife took office following her husband, so the couple could continue ruling the country. Many wonder if this sequence of events really follows the true spirit of the Constitution.
In Kenya, the president has retained his office despite accusations of election fraud. In the presidential election late last year, Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, was ahead of then President Mwai Kibaki from the early stage of vote counting. But suddenly, the counting was discontinued and TV broadcasts were banned. Two days later, the election commission announced the president as the winner. Ethnic groups fought over the outrageous result. More than 1,500 people were killed and more than 600,000 people became refugees. Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, mediated the ethnic tension and managed to induce a compromise, giving the opposition leader the post of prime minister. Kibaki succeeded in securing his presidency using the people’s blood as collateral.
Russia is now in the midst of a political experiment. Former President Vladimir Putin handed power to Dmitry Medvedev, the former first deputy prime minister. Putin said he would serve as prime minister after Medvedev was inaugurated. The former president plans to continue to rule by naming his puppet as president. It is uncertain, however, whether the new president will be satisfied with the role of puppet. Absolute power has a long tradition in Russia, including the czars and communist regimes like Joseph Stalin’s. Then, absolute power was torn down and gave way to a group of powerful figures. But soon a figure of absolute power appeared again. What does the future hold for Putin? Will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessors?
Sometimes, a leader’s aides or family stop him from descending from the peak. The United Democratic Party is undertaking reforms in the nomination process for the legislative elections. Park Jae-seung, the leader of the nomination screening committee, excluded a host of influential figures from consideration for the party nominations. The reason was that they were sentenced to imprisonment for involvement in bribery. He said he would replace 30 percent of the usual candidates for the Jeolla provinces with new faces. According to the March 7 issue of the JoongAng Ilbo, 88.5 percent of the people support his reforms. Some, however, oppose his acts, saying that an amateur who doesn’t understand politics is ruining everything. Former President Kim Dae-jung still has enormous power. They argue that if those party members who support Kim bolt from the UDP and create a new party, the UDP will be left empty.
The former president has suffered all his life from the limitations of regionalism. Does he still think his name should appear in the opposition party? Does he think that only his aides or his son can properly preserve his political achievements?
Kim has repeatedly had proxies in the past. But voters are not idiots, unable to see Putin standing behind Medvedev. A big tree casts a shadow over the small trees around it and in the end all the small trees die. In the last presidential election, the then-ruling party’s presidential hopefuls tried to earn support from the senior politician and in the end they failed to win votes even from their usual supporters.
Those who have been excluded from consideration for the UDP’s nominations for the upcoming legislative elections may have a lot to say.
However, they should let go of the former president.