[Viewpoint] Luck won’t win the presidential race

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[Viewpoint] Luck won’t win the presidential race

Things are much better for prime minister-designate Chung Un-chan now than they were back in spring 2007.

He was being courted back then, but by the unpopular Uri Party. It wouldn’t have been easy to become a presidential candidate for that party, and if he had, he would have lost to Lee Myung-bak or Park Geun-hye in the presidential race. Then he’d have become like Tarzan as a child, lost in the jungle of the Democratic Party by now.

But now that he has been nominated as prime minister, he is being discussed as a possible presidential hopeful for the Grand National Party.

If he carries out his duties as prime minister and manages to make an impression on the people, many opportunities will open up for him. First of all, he can compete with Chung Mong-joon and Lee Jae-oh to fight Park Geun-hye in the party primary. If he succeeds and becomes the challenger against Park Geun-hye, he’ll be able to call on all the support of the GNP’s anti-Park forces. Or he could join together with Park and share power, bringing with him the support of the Chungcheong provinces where he grew up.

It would be even better if the constitution is amended and the country adopts the president-vice president system. Another possibility is an alliance with leaders of the younger generation such as Oh Se-hoon and Kim Moon-soo. If things go smoothly, the setback in 2007, when he had to give up on the idea of running for presidency, will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It looks like Chung has been quite lucky up to this point.

When Chung’s mother became pregnant with her 11th child while living in poverty, she ate poisonous plants in an attempt to abort the baby. Nevertheless, Un-chan was born. His father asked a village elder who had mastered the old Chinese classics to name the child.

“His fate is full of good luck,” he said.

And he gave Un-chan his name because it means “full of luck” in Korean. The Chinese character un means “cloud” and chan means “light.” Indeed, he has seen much good fortune in his life, but the very first blessing was his sharp mind.

Chung entered Kyunggi High School, then Seoul National University, and finally completed his Ph.D. at an Ivy League school. He worked hard, but his accomplishments would not have been possible if it had not been for his excellent brain. Like President Lee Myung-bak, he was not well off when he was a student. But the other side of his poverty was his luck. Every time he was faced with a problem regarding school tuition or career choice, it seemed a mountain guardian spirit would appear and clear the way.

Dr. Frank William Schofield, an active supporter of Korea’s independence movement and a mentor to Chung, helped pay his tuition; Kim Geun-tae, Chung’s high school senior by one year and a former Uri Party chairman, led him to study economics; Shin Young-bok, who served a 20-year prison term in connection with the Unification Revolution Party case and is currently a professor at SungKongHoe University, instilled in him a sense of social awareness; and professor Cho Soon, former deputy prime minister for economic affairs, advised him to go to the United States to further his studies. They were all guardian spirits for him.

Chung Un-chan used to say, “My life is full of luck, just like my name.”

However, there might not be any more good fortune for him. His designation as prime minister by Lee Myung-bak might be recorded as the end of his streak of luck. What the public is interested in now is not luck. People are interested in political report cards. They are interested in his abilities and how he fulfills his duty as prime minister. If he wants to ride the horse as a presidential hopeful in the next election, first he has to buy his entry to the riding ground - and that’s quite expensive.

Lee Myung-bak paid the price by becoming the paragon of a successful salaryman and by restoring the Cheonggye Stream that runs through the center of Seoul.

Park Geun-hye saved the nation’s identity during the storms under former President Roh Moo-hyun’s left-wing administration and revived the Grand National Party when it was dying of unpopularity after the impeachment.

Oh Se-hoon paved the way for a clean election culture when he was an assemblyman, and is now clearing the air in Seoul.

Kim Moon-soo, as a young man, chose the labor movement instead of wealth and prosperity and is now trying to become the CEO of Gyeonggi Province.

Chung Mong-joon’s balance sheet is in the black, with a surplus including the largest shipyard in the world and World Cup soccer.

Lee Jae-oh spent his younger days fighting for democratization even though he was poor, and made a key contribution to the establishment of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

What are the sacrifices and accomplishments of Chung Un-chan? He received quite a good report card as the president of Seoul National University. However, the world of politics is not a lecture hall at the foot of Mount Gwanak. There are no groans or screams in a classroom, but they exist in society. Real life is full of the groans of the weak who are afraid of competition.

Chung has special respect for two economists: John Maynard Keynes and Alfred Marshall. Keynes believed that the government and economists had to compensate for the faults of capitalism. Marshall was Keynes’ teacher, and advised economists to have “a cold head and a warm heart.” Chung is an economist, and his duty is to “put economics in motion.” If he is going to be a prime minister for appearance’s sake or a prime minister interested only in formalities, commentating on baseball would be more of a contribution to society.

Instead he must present solutions to alleviate the suffering of the weak by using his knowledge of economics, the field he has studied all his life. That would be his cheapest ticket to the riding ground.


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

by Kim Jin
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