[Viewpoint] Recognizable no longer

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[Viewpoint] Recognizable no longer

The highest integrity is demanded of presidential candidates. The propriety of candidates is equivalent to the state’s, especially if the candidate represents the former ruling party.

South Korea is an industrial powerhouse and an exemplary model among emerging democracies and economies. A former presidential candidate from a country of such status is demeaning himself beyond help. Representative Chung Dong-young, a senior member of the main opposition Democratic Party who ran against President Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 presidential election, is acting unprofessionally and more like a labor activist these days.

Since his defeat in the presidential election, Chung has been in self-denial, resorting to sensationalism and a pro-North Korea campaign. His metamorphosis has been shockingly drastic. Chung has served as chairman of the National Security Council under President Roh Moo-hyun as well as Minister of Unification and head of the then-ruling party.

He aggressively promoted the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was pursued by Roh. He, to the then-American ambassador to Korea in March 2006, said that a bilateral free trade deal would be the second pillar upholding Korea-U.S. ties for the next 50 years. As a presidential candidate in November 2007, he said a free trade deal with the United States was an inevitable byproduct of globalization.

With the trade pact now ratified by the U.S. Congress, Chung condemns the FTA as a kind of unfair annexation treaty. He opposes the plan to establish a naval base on Jeju Island - a plan that was legitimized during the Roh administration - as a “wrong decision.” We cannot find the words to describe his extreme transformation.

Chung has now become more of a leftist extremist who threatens to overthrow the rule of law and ethics. During a hearing against government officials, he called up an activist who has been staging a sit-in atop a crane for months in protest of the Hanjin Heavy Industries layoffs to encourage her. He shouted at Hanjin executives and warned that the world would change in April next year, meaning after the general elections. He even called the company’s chairman a murderer in a televised hearing.

Chung was a popular television news anchor before joining politics. As a journalist, he should know the importance of the truth. An international investigation team, after a joint study with the government and military, concluded that the Cheonan had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo attack. Yet, he accused the government of failing in its scientific investigation.

He did not deny that North Koreans bombarded Yeonpyeong Island but also blamed South Korea for retaliatory “hatred” firing. We have to ask which country he wanted to lead when he ran for the presidency.

As unification minister, he said he had heard North Korean leader Kim Jong-il referred to as a bold leader. But he kept silent on human rights violations in North Korea.

When Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the DP, raised concerns about the party’s tendency to advocate for North Korea, Chung argued that party members were merely upholding the engagement legacy of President Kim Dae-jung. But his actions speak otherwise.

Presidential candidates in the past have kept up their image and decorum to contribute to the well-being of the state.

President Syngman Rhee’s political rivals Kim Gu, Lee Shi-young, Shin Ik-hee and Cho Byeong-ok are still revered for their integrity and patriotism.

Their sacrifices and upright characters helped their conservative rival Rhee. Kim Gu, for instance, may have differed with Rhee on the state’s direction but did so honorably. Kim fought vehemently against Rhee but never resorted to slandering Rhee and his followers.

Kim Dae-jung had been Park Chung Hee’s strongest adversary until the latter’s death. He despised Park’s domineering governance but did not attack outright bureaucrats and entrepreneurs. Kim supported dissidents and the student movement but did not stand at the forefront. He, as a presidential candidate, knew how to conduct himself.

President Kim Young-sam also kept up his dignity as a formidable presidential contender. Lee Hoi-chang ran and was defeated three times in presidential elections but nevertheless remains an unwavering conservative party leader.

We do not know what has so distracted Chung. But on perspective and character, he is no longer reliable.

It is heartbreaking to see him so changed - especially so to the multitude of people who voted for him in the 2007 election.

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

By Kim Jin
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