[Viewpoint]The power of politics

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[Viewpoint]The power of politics

It was the day when the Korean baseball team played Japan in the Beijing Olympic Games and advanced to the final round with a 6-2 victory. Slugger Lee Seung-youp, who had performed poorly through the preliminary round, hit a home run. On the same day, Hwang Kyung-seon also won a gold medal in women’s taekwondo, despite an injury.

On Aug. 22, 2008, the eyes and ears of Koreans around the world were focused on the 2008 Summer Olympics.

On the same day, a funeral for three firefighters was held at Eunpyeong Elementary School in Seoul. At dawn two days earlier, 45-year-old Jo Gi-hyeon, 41-year-old Kim Gyu-jae and 34-year-old Byeon Jae-wu were killed as the Eunpyeong District night club in which they were putting out a fire collapsed.

As the funeral cars left for a crematorium in Seongnam, heavy rain poured as if it was seeing them off.

A news report followed that firefighters receive a danger allowance as they risk their lives to save the lives of others every day. That allowance is a mere 50,000 won ($45) per month. It used to be 20,000 won, but was raised after six firefighters died in service in March 2001.

The firefighters work an average of 80 hours per week, far more than the 40-hour workweek defined by the Labor Standard Act. Despite the long hours, a fire chief with 17 years of experience is only paid around 40 million won a year, before tax.

I still remember a firefighter who said that his daughters were getting older, and that he was contemplating whether to keep his career as he said farewell to his late colleagues.

In this world, there are many people around us who put their lives at risk every day. On the day of the firefighters’ funeral, neither the Grand National Party nor the Democratic Party in Yeouido issued a comment through a spokesman, a simple act that is very commonplace these days. So I felt a deep sense of sorrow when a statement was released, titled: “On the Thrilling Victory in Baseball.”

What is politics?

There have been countless definitions of it throughout human history. One encyclopedia’s explanation is short yet meaningful. It defines politics as the job of helping citizens live humane lives, mediating understanding between parties and maintaining social order.

The 18th session of the National Assembly opened on Sept. 1. While the regular session opens around this time every year, we’re paying more attention now since we have expectations for the new faces in the Assembly. We believe that these first-time lawmakers were pursuing something more than the mere six-gram gold pin.

The Grand National Party and the Democratic Party held a two-day meeting on Aug. 28 and 29. It is necessary for the politicians to confirm their resolve and refresh their sense of purpose.

I hope the 299 lawmakers who will be working in the 60-year-old National Assembly for the next four years have a sense of self-respect and responsibility.

Politics should not be opportunistically hidden in the glory of gold medals. Politics and politicians might be publicly criticized and ridiculed over and over again, but the power to change the world still belongs to them.

The pain of 300,000 Korean children who cannot afford lunch can only be alleviated when lawmakers discuss the revision on the Children’s Welfare Act to mandate an additional budget for the starving children, an issue that was mentioned at the Grand National Party’s meeting. Politicians should live among us in order them to find out what people really need.

Today, a certain political party has grave concerns about its lack of an emergent leader who can take back control of the country five years from now.

Another political party claims that as it took it 10 years to regain the reins, it needs to erase all traces of the past decade and disable the other party altogether.

However, what makes a winner of an election cannot be found in such superficial contests. Whenever election season comes, politicians wonder what kind of issue will overwhelm the election.

But they should look back. Social issues don’t come out of the blue. Each word of a politician and each policy of a political party accumulates, eventually leading into a new jump forward.

When the first regular session of the 18th National Assembly opens, I hope to see hopeful looks on the new faces gathering in Yeouido.

*The writer is the deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Seung-hee
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