[Viewpoint]The party’s lost sheepThere is one thing that National Assemblymen fear more than death itself: failure to get their party’s nomination to run in the legislative elections. If they lose their seats in the Assembly, they lose not only their jobs, but all other related benefits such as government-paid assistants, chauffeur-driven cars, salaries and their status as lawmakers.
More than anything else, they are afraid of losing their fame. There are such misfortunes like bankruptcies, broken hearts and illness in life, but failing to get their party’s nomination in the legislative elections is a totally different story.
It comes as a shock and leaves a long-lasting aftereffect. The shock may take years to recover from.
The story of Kim Jai-son is one of the most oft-quoted examples of a political comeback after failing to be nominated by his party. A former speaker of the National Assembly, Kim was first elected as to legislature in 1960. He was lucky enough to be re-elected in subsequent elections. In 1971, he was even elected to be the secretary general of the Republican Party, which was ruling at the time.
However, in February 1973, the late President Park Chung Hee, who was concurrently the head of the ruling party, did not give him the party nomination to run in the legislative elections.
Kim, greatly shocked, started to drink heavily. In short order, he collapsed due to brain damage sustain from his binge.
In 1988, however, he became the speaker of the Assembly on the Democratic Justice Party ticket when former President Roh Tae-woo took power. He said, “Only those who had the experience of failing to get nominated to run in the legislative elections would know how this really feels.”
In the 1970s, Pong Du-wan was a star anchorman of the Tongyang Broadcasting Company. In 1981, he ran for the Yongsan-Mapo district seat in Seoul on the ticket of the Democratic Justice Party, which ruled at the time. In that race, Pong broke the record of winning the largest number of votes nationwide.
In 1985, he was re-elected and helped former President Roh Tae-woo, who took office in 1987, consolidate his power base. In 1988, however, he was deprived of his constituency by someone backed by the powerful Park Chul-un.
Kwon Ik-hyun and Kwon Jung-dal, stalwarts of the previous administration under former President Chun, also failed to win the party’s nomination.
When Pong failed to earn a nomination, he went to St. Lazarus Village, a sanitarium for leprosy patients in Euiwang, Gyeonggi. He tried to calm himself by drinking heavily and praying all day long, but he could not ease his rage.
He later said, “I even considered both suicide and murder.” Cardinal Kim Su-hwan told him, “Being an assemblyman is not the whole world. Do God’s work.” Now Pong is president of the Lazarus Foundation and the Korean Catholic Foundation.
A recent dramatic example of a politician who failed to get a party nomination was the late Assemblyman Kim Yoon-whan. He was the mentor and biggest supporter of Lee Hoi-chang since Lee’s entry into politics in 1996.
In February 2000, however, Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the Grand National Party at the time, excluded veteran politicians, including Kim, from the party nominations on the pretext that the party needed fresh blood to prepare for “a new era in Korean politics.”
Kim bolted from the party, founded the New Korea Party and tried to survive in politics. However he failed to do so and got cancer.
But Lee got his just desserts by losing in the most recent presidential election, too. Before Kim died, former Chairman Lee visited him to apologize. Kim lacked energy and simply blinked his eyes. Kim died, but former Chairman Lee now aims to make a colorful political comeback as the chairman of the Liberal Forward Party.
The life of a politician hinges on whether he gets his party’s nomination to run in the legislative elections. If a politician becomes resentful of the party’s decision, his anger could consume him.
The rage, in many cases, leaves a nail in the hearts of those who failed to get a party nomination.
Therefore, major political parties should ensure that their candidate nomination process is fair. The intervention of certain people’s personal preferences should be prevented.
Political parties must especially provide fair opportunities to incumbent assemblymen. They are the people whom local voters elected four years ago. When the party decides to drop such persons, there should be acceptable reasons for both the politician as well as his constituents.
If central political forces eliminate incumbent lawmakers in local provinces without acceptable reasons, the result is a mockery and an insult to local residents. It is a crime against the will of the people.
Among the Grand National Party’s lawmakers who were elected by their constituency, about 40 have failed to get the party’s nomination to run in the upcoming legislative elections.
Regardless of whether they belong to the Lee Myung-bak faction or the Park Geun-hye faction, around half of them have problems.
Either they lack good records of legislative activities in comparison to the number of terms they’ve served, or they’ve failed to manage their own image properly.
But there is no clear reason for dropping the remaining 20 or so incumbent lawmakers. This is especially the case with assemblymen who were elected for the first time.
Some assemblymen, who were even cited as outstanding lawmakers by civic groups, were dropped from the party nomination. During the presidential election, Lee Myung-bak and the GNP proclaimed that they would fairly award party nominations to candidates to run in the legislative elections.
However, first-time lawmakers who won many votes failed to get a GNP nomination. One assemblyman failed to secure a nomination although he had the highest attendance record at National Assembly meetings.
An assemblyman with an approval rating many times higher than his peers also failed to be nominated.
There is a saying that it is better to set 99 criminals free than to wrongfully sentence one man to death. They say a shepherd should look for one lost sheep rather than taking care of the 99 sheep that follow him diligently.
This is why elder politicians, such as former President Kim Young-sam and former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil, deplore the fact that the party has lost the trust of the people.
The bleating of the wrongfully treated sheep is drowning out the sweet songs of the spring.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin