Time to embrace TV debates

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Time to embrace TV debates

The popularity of Park Won-soon, the opposition flag bearer in the race for Seoul mayor, appears to be ebbing. Grand National Party candidate Na Kyung-won is edging Park in most polls, as Park has failed to respond competently to the ruling party’s attacks.

Park, who represents civilian activist groups, has accomplished a lot at a grass-roots level. But civilian movements and public office are different. The former are organized by people who share the same interests and causes, whereas public officeholders are chosen mostly by voters. Any Seoul citizen who is eligible to vote has the right to know the capabilities and beliefs of a candidate who is running for mayor.

Park has not been tested in public office because he has never served there. He must deal with accusations from opponents and alleged whistle-blowers. While some accusations are groundless and others just plain insulting, he must address them nonetheless. There is no easy way to dodge the dirty tactics of one’s rivals in the political sphere, especially when the ruling party claims it is posing such questions on behalf of Seoul citizens.

Park also led a campaign to boycott what his activist group claimed were corrupt and unqualified candidates ahead of the general elections in 2000. So, he is now morally bound to apply stricter ethical standards to himself. So far, his explanations for allegations concerning his military and academic records have not been satisfactory. The same holds true for his answers to claims leveled against certain corporate donations made to, and sponsorship activities conducted for, the civilian organizations to which Park is tied. Some are already demanding Park issue a public apology for these alleged misdeeds.

Na must also clarify whether she sought favors for the school that her father runs and whether she received donations from teaching staff there. Park has both a right and duty to grill Na on these rumors.

However, Park looks like he has lost his nerve by avoiding more televised debates with Na, as these are instrumental in evaluating the morality and political beliefs of the two candidates. TV debates were first employed during the 1997 presidential elections.

Na agreed to Park’s idea of joining a talk show, but Park is sidestepping the issue by saying that all issues were covered in their four previous debates. Park must discuss the allegations swirling around him in the final debate unless he wants to look like he is hiding something.

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