[Viewpoint]Political wandering needs a reason

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[Viewpoint]Political wandering needs a reason

It’s an open secret that Park Hee-tae, chairman of the Grand National Party, and Chung Dong-young, a former presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, are thinking about running for National Assembly seats in the by-elections to be held in April.

And since they are not actively denying these rumors, it seems highly likely that they will actually run.

Whether the two apply publicly for a nomination by their respective parties or wait for their parties to nominate them of their own accord is up to them to decide.

However, as important as their freedom is, I think maintaining principles is equally important.

There are a few points Korean society should consider in relation to these two men’s candidacy.

In his previous tenure in the Assembly, Chairman Park was elected five times in a row beginning in 1988 to represent his home area, Namhae and Hadong in South Gyeongsang Province. He maintained amicable relations with his constituents for over 20 years. He promised he would work for his country and his hometown, and voters gave him support by electing him to five terms. Park Hee-tae was also active on the national political stage, elected as the vice-speaker of the Assembly and as chairman of his party.

But the Grand National Party declined to nominate him to run in the legislative elections of April last year. The party discarded the five-term Assemblyman, who was considered to be a strong candidate to be the speaker of the Assembly, with no explanation to the people. Park was at home at the seaside when he heard the alarming news that he had failed to get the party’s nomination.

The party crushed one of its elders, only to reconcile with him in July last year.

They elected him as their chairman at a party convention. Many people outside the party raised their voices, saying, “How can a person who failed to get the party’s nomination become the party chairman?”

However, representatives of the party said Park Hee-tae was the right person to unite the conflicting party factions. Now the ruling party says it needs someone within the National Assembly to lead it.

This is not an official party opinion, but many people in the mainstream are saying so, and Chairman Park does not deny it.

But if that is the case, why didn’t the party grant a public nomination to such an important person? And, if the party needed someone within the National Assembly as its leader, why then did it select a non-member as chairman just last July?

Without consistent principles by which to act, the Grand National Party is wandering aimlessly in the National Assembly.

Putting aside the matter of principle, the candidacy of Park Hee-tae does not appear to be a wise choice even from a strategic point of view.

The opposition parties are aiming to use the by-elections as an opportunity for a referendum on the Lee Myung-bak administration.

If the chairman of the ruling party runs for an Assembly seat, it will only provide them with more fuel for their propaganda.

One and a half years after former President Kim Dae-jung came to power, Cho Se-hyung, then acting president of the ruling party, ran for a National Assembly seat in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province, in a by-election.

The Kim Dae-jung administration aimed to take the lead in state affairs by nominating a political heavyweight, but Cho had a hard time competing against a female opposition candidate, Jeon Jae-hee, who had been the mayor of Gwangmyeong City. He won the election, but by only 1,300 votes.

If Chairman Park does not want to experience a similar situation, he has to avoid metropolitan areas and select a constituency in South Gyeongsang Province.

Even in Gyeongsang Province, however, he cannot have complete peace of mind.

There are problems in the party, but there’s also another problem Park Hee-tae has to consider as a politician. If he is elected for a sixth time, he will be considered a candidate for the next speaker of the Assembly.

As someone who has been in politics for decades, he will have a hard time turning a blind eye to such a golden opportunity.

But what if that sixth election comes after he has left the constituency where he was elected five times in a row? Changing his constituency without a reason would be a cynical move that could only drive Korean politics backward.

If he moves to another constituency to be elected for the sixth time, what becomes of his 20-year attachment to Namhae and Hadong?

Former Democratic Party presidential candidate Chung Dong-young cut his political teeth getting elected twice from his hometown, Dukjin District, Jeonju, beginning in 1996.

The Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in the 2007 presidential election, and stood at a life-or-death crossroads in the general elections in April last year.

The party wanted to revive itself by asking prominent leaders such as Chung Dong-young and Sohn Hak-kyu to work actively in Seoul.

Chung Dong-young ran against Chung Mong-joon in the Dongjak constituency, and Sohn Hak-kyu confronted Park Jin in Jongno. The two Democratic candidates lost, but their defeats were justified.

It was significant that Chung Dong-young ran in a Seoul constituency, because he threw away his own constituency in Jeonju, where he would have been warmly received. Instead he preferred, for the benefit of the party, to risk a cold reception in Seoul.

Chung Dong-young was a commander of the Democratic Party who fought against such prominent GNP figures as Lee Myung-bak and Chung Mong-joon.

If he chooses to retreat to the warmth of his hometown again without any justification, what will happen to the spirit of the party?

Since losing to Park Jin, Sohn Hak-kyu has sat waiting for his time to come again in a farmhouse in Chuncheon.

Isn’t this choice more appropriate?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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