[Viewpoint] The shadow of premature power

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[Viewpoint] The shadow of premature power

A strange phenomenon is unfolding in this society. Power is shifting to someone who has no legitimate authority or status. The media, which is supposed to keep a watch on disproportionate concentration of power, is instead cheering the phenomenon on. The media has a rabid interest in the Park Geun-hye phenomenon, and it indiscriminately reports whatever she has to say. Because she’s not much of a talker, news erupts whenever she opens her mouth.

Politicians are elected representatives of their constituents and the broader population. Their primary duty is to represent the public interest. But the media’s preoccupation is with Park and her concerns rather than the public. They line up pleading for her attention.

Even the president went on television to explain himself to the public after she criticized the government for walking away from a campaign promise to build a new airport in the southeast of the country.

As a former head of the ruling party and as a legislator, Park can wield the influence appropriate to her role. But her voice alone seems to carry more weight than the opposition and the ruling party combined.

How does this compare to the president, who is the nation’s legitimate leader for his five-year term? Lee Myung-bak still has two years left in his term, yet people are already calling him a lame duck. The five-year term is a statutory period authorizing the president to govern, but why is society so impatient to chuck him out early and surrender his power to someone else? There must be something serious wrong about this country if the president is stripped of his authority during his tenure by someone who does not have legitimate power from the people at large.

From whence does the Park Geun-hye phenomenon spring? Is it because her wisdom and judgment are extraordinary? Or is it because her political integrity makes her unique among our political crowd? Politicians must keep their word. But it sometimes takes more courage to break a promise and brave the slings and arrows by betraying a campaign pledge that solid facts show is not feasible.

Park’s insistence on sticking to the Grand National Party’s election promises of building an administrative city in Chungcheong and an international airport in the southeastern region do not have the country’s best interests at heart. It looks more like self-serving electioneering in her home base. Yet the media and lawmakers hang onto her every word. Where does such power come from?

I want to credit it to the public’s psychological interest in her, and a certain amount of hope pinned on a woman who could become our next leader. Park tops popularity polls among potential candidates for the next presidential race. Such interest has now become a real kind of power. If someone without power is believed to possess it by many, it can become true.

Such a self-fulfilling prophecy can trick the mind and alter people’s behavior. Washington wielded less political power after Korea’s economy industrialized and modernized. But leftist politicians and students beeline to the U.S. Embassy whenever they want to rally against their own government. Such beliefs actually boosted Washington’s clout in our domestic political affairs.

Park may be a promising presidential candidate from the ruling party, but she currently is devoid of any legal authority. If the media and politicians all believe she already has such mighty power, she will eventually get it legitimately. The fact that she’s already gaining political power even before she wins an election is a kind of advance paycheck.

We all know that politics is a power game. But Park has not explained her grounds for opposing the government’s plans. In fact, she has not even held an official press conference. She spoke a few words of her opinion, which her aides elaborated on and the media blew up. Maybe it’s all about her charm.

Imagine what such an infatuation can lead to if she does indeed gain power. Who would dare to bare her true identity? She may be a political idol we are creating in our head.

Democracy should be transparent. Park must step out of the artificial, illusory image she has been projecting and let the public see her true self, removed from the media spotlight.

And for other politicians, they should return to their proper roles - as representatives of the public - and stop chasing this penumbra of rising power if they care to keep our democracy on the right path.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Moon Chang-keuk
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