[Viewpoint] Politics should take a backseatNothing seems to be above politics in Korea. Issues are viewed from a political perspective and come out distorted. This country is a republic run by politics. The Naro Space Center, a spaceport in Goheung, South Jeolla, is busy these days preparing for the second launch of the Naro rocket carrier.
The rocket’s first stage arrived from Russia last week. The payload fairing system and the satellite protective cover reached the center last month, followed by the scientific satellite payload. With all the parts in place, engineers only have the job of assembly left. Engineers, scientists and space experts are flocking to the spaceport and Russian engineers have settled in nearby.
Tensions permeate the site as the people involved are determined not to repeat the failure of last year’s maiden launch, when the payload fairing did not separate. Space Center head Min Kyung-ju assures, “This time we will succeed.”
They cannot afford to make another mistake. They had tested the second stage fairing separation 100 times before the first launch. This time they completed testing 380 times. They fixed the automated launch system so that there would be no glitch in the separation. They made sure an electric discharge would not happen due to pressurization.
On the technical side, they are ready. But they cannot determine the timing of the launch. Weather conditions are crucial in determining the success of a rocket launch. Weather experts recommend a period between late May and early June. The problem is the June 2 local elections. Another failure could result in votes against the ruling party. A success could also create a political debate. The opposition could attack the government for using the space launch to win votes. The presidential office is said to be proposing a launch after the elections.
But a delay means money. It costs millions of won to host the Russian engineers every day. Moreover, the weather cannot wait. The wet season usually arrives in early June. On June 2 last year, there was occasional rain with strong winds. Two days after, it had turned into a downpour. Naro engineers are now literally praying for the delayed arrival of the rainy season to ensure a successful launch.
Political yardsticks have also been applied to corruption probes. Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook was acquitted of taking $50,000 in bribes. The prosecution has launched a second graft probe involving 900 million won.
Yet the investigation cannot proceed since the opposition Democratic Party is claiming the probe could affect the election. Publicly, the prosecution is showing a bold face, saying it cannot act according to a political timetable. But privately, it fears criticism that it is engaging in an act of political retaliation ahead of the election.
In spite of the prosecutors’ bamboo emblem, which signifies intractability, they are vulnerable to political pressure. The fundamental guideline that prosecutors must investigate upon suspicion and punish upon crime is powerless against political forces.
The top news for the past two weeks - the Cheonan debacle - is also bound to be affected by politics. Conservatives can not hide their glee as the evidence points to North Korea behind the attack. The Grand National Party silently hopes the case will reignite fears and anger toward North Korea, which would attract conservative votes.
Liberals, who have a more moderate stance on North Korea, are getting nervous. “We are praying that it is not the North Koreans,” says one Democratic Party lawmaker. They appear to be insensitive to the lives of the 46 sailors whose cold bodies have been retrieved from the wreckage. The only thing that matters to them are votes.
Politics are paramount in Korea. They eclipse space projects, prosecution activities and even national security. A society ruled by politics is immature. In a complicated advanced society, experts in their specialized fields are important. Their voices must be heard and respected. Space development must be left to be run by scientists, defense run by the military and investigative probes by the prosecution.
Politicians should wait for the results like everyone else in this country. Their opinions can be heard afterward. In our society, experts have long been ignored. The political waters here are too deep for anyone else to rise above them.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Cheol-ho