[Viewpoint] New leader of the left must be creativeDemocratic Party chairman Chung Sye-kyun said, “The Democratic Party is an orphan and has lost a father figure.” This might be an emotional exaggeration, but also, by calling the party an orphan, Chung subtly suggested that he is the legitimate successor of Kim Dae-jung.
Chung Dong-young has said the succession debate is meaningless, but he was the presidential candidate following presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. He has implied that he is next in line in the dynasty. After all, Chung is the self-proclaimed leader of the Honam region after Kim.
The organization of the democratic reformists was the life’s work of President Kim Dae-jung. Today the main axis on the left is the progressives. But it won’t be easy for them to come together. The pro-Roh Moo-hyun sect is keeping its distance from the Democratic Party. They say that democracy, inter-Korean relations and the working class are all in crisis. However, there are contradictions, especially with President Kim Dae-jung’s signature “Sunshine Policy.”
To them, the crisis in the inter-Korean relations is a crisis of the Sunshine Policy. However, the Sunshine Policy was already fatally damaged during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Its fruit was the June 15 inter-Korean summit meeting. But a special prosecutor investigated the historic meeting in the early days of the Roh administration and determined that Hyundai had secretly sent money to the North.
Since the deal was against the law, an investigation was inevitable. In the course of the investigation, citizens came to have a negative impression of Sunshine Policy due to these under-the-table transactions. Kim Dae-jung later recalled that the special prosecutor should have not dug into the case, calling the investigation a tragedy for the nation. The investigation reflected a power contest between the old and new groups. Breaks like this are why bringing the Democrats together won’t be an easy task.
The two former presidents left a huge space to fill. Their followers lack the capacity and insight to make up for their absence. There is no figure to step into the central role. So it is easier to stick with the teachings of the departed. As long as you faithfully follow the instructions of the former presidents, you get a reputation for loyalty. This political strategy has little risk.
But Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun instinctively refused to follow others unquestioningly. Kim said that he tried to develop his own interpretation and understanding even when reading books by the greatest philosophers. This is how he established a unique perspective as a statesman. He said that when you look at a piece of art, it is the worst to pretend to be a critic instead of speaking with your own voice.
He said he admired Kim Gu as a great patriot and approved the establishment of a memorial to him when Kim was president. However, he was critical even of Kim Gu’s political choices, saying, “If he intended to oppose the trusteeship of the Korean Peninsula, he should have taken part in the May 10 election in the South, and he should have seized the power in the South and pursued unification. But he opposed both trusteeship and a separate government in the South.”
Roh Moo-hyun wished to be the first son of the new generation but regretted that he remained the youngest son of the old generation. He constantly challenged the politics of the “Three Kims” - Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil. He innately disliked getting a free ride. By relocating the capital, he had hoped to turn the country upside down. That plan was frustrated due to a ruling by the Constitutional Court. The capital relocation plan was a great ambition none of his predecessors had even dreamed of.
As an opposition politician, Kim Dae-jung said, “Young politicians lack a challenging spirit. They do not put in enough effort to grow.” He said that when an opportunity comes, one should make it his or her own.
The deaths of the two former presidents means a crisis for the opposition. At the same time, it poses an opportunity for the rise of a new figure. Neither Roh nor Kim would have embraced someone else’s instructions as is. They would have distinguished between the light and the shadow and only swallowed what was right.
That’s how their real heir is supposed to act. Kim Dae-jung’s pursuit of reconciliation and unification and Roh Moo-hyun’s unpretentious leadership are positive legacies. Anyone with an ambition to succeed Kim and Roh should inherit their actual, creative philosophies while leaving their negative legacies, such as regionalism and fragmentary politics, to history. The old confrontation between democracy and anti-democracy has to be broken.
Citizens wish for new language and a new system. Only one with courage, vision and healthy ambition will be able to lead the left after Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon