[Viewpoint] JP can lead the way once againIn 1987, Kim Jong-pil - popularly referred to as JP - created a Chungcheong-based party. The New Democratic Republican Party gained 35 seats in the general election of 1988.
Until he retired in 2004, JP was the leader of the Chungcheong region. Now, Liberal Forward Party Chairman Lee Hoi-chang is the political “lord” there, with the power to nominate candidates for the general and local elections.
JP no longer has any substantial power. However, he is still an influential leader spiritually. Not many Chungcheong residents can easily forget him.
Lee Hoi-chang uses standard Korean, but JP uses the friendly Chungcheong dialect.
JP and Lee Hoi-chang have completely contrasting opinions on the Sejong City project. JP supports revising the Sejong City project, saying that dividing the administrative branch is not desirable. However, Lee claims that it is O.K. to divide the administrative branch, and he steadfastly defends the original plan. JP and Lee represent the divided Chungcheong sentiment. Who is right, then?
JP served as prime minister for five years and 11 months, and he knows how the administrative branch operates from the inside out. He understands the potential problems that can arise when the prime minister’s office and nine departments are separated. In a newspaper interview in September 2009, JP insisted that President Lee Myung-bak had to keep his promise on the Sejong City project. Because he made promises a number of times, “There is no way for the president not to go ahead with the project,” in order to maintain the trust of the citizens, he said.
However, even then, JP admitted the project was flawed. He drew a line by saying, “Strictly from the point of national interest, it is not so desirable for administrative agencies to move there.”
The project is inevitable, JP thinks. But on principle, he opposes the relocation of administrative offices.
JP confirmed his position when Prime Minister Chung Un-chan visited him at the end of last year. “The nation must not be torn apart,” he said, adding that “the people of the Chungcheong region are changing gradually.”
He also suggested that the government could persuade Chungcheong residents provided that the revision is well-planned. So what made JP change his position? He has been closely watching the president and the government try very hard to persuade the people of the Chungcheong region, and he has decided that public opinion has changed.
Lee Hoi-chang served as prime minister for only five months, from December 1993 to April 1994. Although someone who was in the office for six years is concerned that the move could paralyze nation affairs, Lee insists it will be O.K.
While JP and seven more former prime ministers are worried, he says there will be no trouble.
What makes Lee Hoi-chang so confident? Does he have enough experience to claim that he is more right than eight veteran administrators? A more serious problem is that he is self-contradictory. While serving as prime minister, he emphasized the importance of the position more than anyone. The Constitution says that the prime minister oversees the cabinet and shall receive orders from the president.
When former President Kim Young-sam excluded the prime minister from the unification and security policy modification meeting, Lee Hoi-chang challenged the decision and was then replaced. But now Lee claims that the “prime minister is an assistant agency to the president.”
“As long as the president and other government agencies remain in Seoul, relocating the prime minister - who plays an assistant’s role - and some administrative agencies does not mean dividing the capital,” he said.
If the prime minister is only an assistant, why did he protest the president’s decision to exclude an “assistant” from a meeting?
JP might not have supported the revision of the Sejong City plan if he had been the incumbent chairman of the Chungcheong-based party. However, if JP were indeed the incumbent leader, he would not have advocated the unscientific argument that dividing the administrative branch will cause no trouble. He might be conscious of the regional sentiment, but at the same time he certainly would be worried about the national interest.
Before the general election of 2000, he expressed the determination that “even if I go down, my sunset will turn the western skies aglow.” JP is only left with ordeals. His once-influential party is gone, and he is recovering from a stroke.
But he has been given a chance to turn the western skies aglow. If he successfully leads the way down a successful path, he will be the eternal leader of Chungcheong.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin