[Viewpoint] Demonstrate befitting leadershipA ruling party head is not just a figurehead of the governing power. In Korea, a head wields immense political and public authority. In a parliamentary system, the ruling party head automatically becomes the prime minister. South Korea is among the largest economies and is exemplary for its progress in industrialization and democratization. A ruling party head of such a nation must demonstrate befitting dignity and leadership.
Most of the leaders of the main conservative party have been well qualified and dignified, although some have had a mixed political reputation. Among them, Lee Hoi-chang, Lee Hong-koo and Lee Han-dong served as the prime minister. Park Jyun-kyu and Park Hee-tae became National Assembly speakers. Lee Jae-hyung, Yoon Giel-joong and Lee Choon-koo contributed with their upright character.
But the incumbent ruling party head is only fanning the Grand National Party’s fall from grace. Hong Joon-pyo, the party chairman since July, often draws unfortunate attention with contentious remarks and actions. He finally found himself in hot water and was rebuked publicly in a party executive meeting.
First of all, Hong is trading off the dignity of a ruling party head as a cheap bargain. He may argue he is being informal. But he simply doesn’t seem to have any decorum in him. Like former President Roh Moo-hyun, he cannot differentiate authority from authoritativeness. Upon inauguration as the party head, he paid a visit to former President Kim Young-sam. In front of cameras, he came down to his knees and bowed deeply to Kim. While serving as prosecutor, Hong sent Kim’s political rival Park Chul-un to prison in 1993. Kim rewarded Hong with a ticket to run in the general election in 1996. Hong regards Kim as his political father.
Whatever feelings he has for the ex-president, Hong should have acted as a ruling party leader. If he wanted to pay respect to Kim, he should have done so privately. Excited by the ceremony’s spotlight, Kim discounted former President Park Chung Hee as a “jerk who staged a coup d’etat.”
While meeting Democratic Party head Sohn Hak-kyu, Hong addressed his rival as “my brother.” Since when has the legislative body become an alumni or fraternity club? Or is it a mob organization? The main opposition Democratic Party is playing the bully with the ruling party over ratifying the free trade agreement with the United States. And the party leader is wholeheartedly playing along.
Hong in a TV debate said the first word that popped into his head upon thinking of large companies was “exploitation.” The ruling party has disgraced the main player of our economy. He even blurted out defamatory words toward female university students.
In meeting with college students, he called other party executive members who were critical of him “worthless fools.” But as the second executive, he had attacked then-party leader Ahn Sang-soo. Even after the party convention, he refused to sit next to Ahn. He continued to attack Ahn’s weaknesses.
Apart from his character problems, Hong also lacks leadership and insight. Even after the ruling party lost in the Seoul mayoral by-election to a political novice without any party affiliation, Hong claimed the contest had been a draw. It’s almost like acting as though it didn’t hurt after being slapped in the face by voters. It may not be just a slap in the face in the parliamentary elections in April next year.
When Na Kyung-won made an appearance in the executive meeting the following day after her defeat in the Seoul mayoral race, Hong bluntly told her to go home and rest. He lacks not only political decency but gentlemanly propriety toward the loser and a lady. If he had been a leader and a man, he should have consoled her and cheered the party to make a strong comeback.
Any political party can err and get into trouble. It can be rebuked and kicked around. But if an individual or organization maintains dignity and spirit, it does not stay a loser.
The Grand National Party suffered a backlash after its impeachment attempt against President Roh Moo-hyun failed ahead of the April 2004 general elections. Many estimated its seats would be no more than 70. But the party handed over the leadership helm to Park Geun-hye and mingled with ordinary people to restore its credibility. The efforts paid off.
Authority can be attacked but should not be ridiculed. Voters do not have sympathy for pathetic politicians. Hong accused President Lee Myung-bak of lacking political skills. The 50 million people may think so, but Hong is hardly someone to say so.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin