[Outlook]Refined politicsOne week before Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer, was sworn in as the prime minister of the United Kingdom, new curtains were delivered to 10 Downing Street. Cherie Blair, Tony Blair’s wife, hadn’t ordered anything and wondered what the package was. Looking closely, she saw the sender’s name was Sarah Brown, Gordon Brown’s wife.
Days later, the story was released through the media. Britons joked that Sarah Brown couldn’t wait to move in. For the Browns, however, it was hard to take as a joke.
At the time another article appeared in the media claiming that Cherie Blair had repeatedly asked her husband to throw Brown out. The Browns thought the Blairs were using the media to make laughingstocks out of them.
Gordon Brown lost face over several such incidents that took place before he was sworn in. The media wasn’t easy on Tony Blair either. The two smiled while shaking hands, but the transition didn’t look pretty, particularly since they had been political comrades for so long.
The late left-wing president Francois Mitterrand and the right-wing former president Jacques Chirac of France were long-time rivals. In 1986, they formed the first cohabitation system in the country, in which Mitterrand served as the president and Chirac as the prime minister.
During this period, the two clashed on every issue. It is a well-known fact that during the 14 years Mitterrand was in office, the two years when Chirac was the prime minister were the hardest for him. At Elysee Palace in 1995, Chirac bid farewell to Mitterand as the new president, and that was it. The two must have had uncomfortable feelings toward each other, but they didn’t reveal them.
In France, there is an unwritten law that the outgoing and incoming presidents don’t say unnecessary things about each other. On the day the new president is sworn in, the predecessor hands over the nuclear passwords and that’s the end of the story. The same thing happens whether the administration changes or the same party takes power.
Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy took over the presidency from Chirac. The two belong to the same party but have uncomfortable relations. On the day when Sarkozy was nominated as the presidential candidate for the ruling party, Chirac didn’t even send him flowers.
Their uncomfortable relationship dates back to 1995. Sarkozy entered politics with the help of Chirac. But in 1995, Sarkozy joined the camp of Edouard Balladur who was also right-wing but more popular than Chirac at the time.
Chirac has since ignored the “betrayer” Sarkozy, and Sarkozy felt he was unfairly portrayed. However, since Sarkozy was elected, the two have never said a word about each other.
A political news reporter in France said the two must have things they wanted to say about each other, but they held their tongues, knowing doing so would be a shortcut to being remembered as an ungentlemanly politician.
Looking at the culture in the French political arena, one feels even more disappointed over the controversy spurred by former President Roh Moo-hyun’s removal of presidential information from the Blue House.
First of all, the one who took the information secretly is responsible. The president did something that is entirely contrary to common sense but is now criticizing the incumbent administration. This reminds us how he governed the nation for the past five years.
However, the Blue House is not behaving properly, either. It repeatedly attacked the former president day after day. If the problem is one of leaked records, the Blue House can simply take them back, unless their intention is to humiliate Roh.
As the result of the June 1987 democratization movement, we no longer see presidents who attempt to revise the Constitution to lengthen their terms. Koreans anxiously waited for a peaceful transition of power and that wish came true.
Twenty years have since passed and now we take a peaceful transition of power for granted. Now, we want to see not only a peaceful transition between the outgoing and the incoming presidents, but also a clean one. We want to see genteel, refined politics.
*The writer is the Paris correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Jeon Jin-bae