[Viewpoint] Roh’s men return

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[Viewpoint] Roh’s men return

“The wheel of fortune turns quicker than a mill wheel,” proclaims Don Quixote in Miguel de Cervantes’ celebrated 17th century literary masterpiece. We don’t need to refer to a great master or philosopher to learn life’s ever-changing fortunes. You are at the bottom of the barrel at one point and “King of the Hill” at another.

It works the other way around, too, of course. No one knows the workings of fortune’s wheel better than President Lee Myung-bak. Once the most popular president in modern history, Lee is now watching his own conservatives and the ruling party turn their back on him even with a year left in his term.

After his triumph in the presidential election of December 2007, Lee confidently promised a golden age of peace and abundance in which people would enjoy unprecedented prosperity and security. Four years have passed, and few recall those rosy promises except with a laugh or a sneer. In fact, people feel more abandoned and insecure due to their sense of betrayal and disappointment as Lee’s wheel of fortune spins the wrong way.

For Lee’s rivals, the wheel is spinning in the opposite direction. They are the supporters of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, who were crushed by Lee four years ago. As the Roh camp crawled off the political stage, making room for Lee and his troops, one of Roh’s closest aides, Ahn Hee-jung, solemnly declared they would have to kneel and seek forgiveness from the people for disgracing their political lineage. The kneeling is over, and Roh’s crouching tigers have awoken and pounced. Ahn was elected governor of South Chungcheong in local elections last year.

The now-defunct Uri Party, which was the ruling party in Roh’s time, has reorganized itself into the Democratic Unity Party, which includes the merged Democratic Party, to form the main opposition body. Han Myeong-sook, prime minister under Roh, is expected to win the party’s Jan. 15 primary to become the new head of the coalition opposition party.

Roh’s outspoken loyalist, actor Moon Sung-keun, is also expected to ascend to an executive party office. Kim Doo-kwan, minister of government and home affairs during the Roh administration, who became the governor of South Gyeongsang as an independent, also joined the new party. The pro-Roh forces have more or less regained control of the main opposition camp. They will be in the forefront to face the ruling Grand National Party in the April general election.

Moon Jae-in, head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, Kim Jeong-gil, home minister under Roh, Moon Seung-keun and other Roh loyalists will compete against GNP candidates in the traditional conservative constituencies of Busan and South Gyeongsang in April. They hope to make a solid comeback and revive the Roh age by attacking GNP big guns on their home turf.

The Roh loyalists should thank the Lee administration for making it easy for them to return to the central stage. They have something the conservatives’ and Lee’s camps lack, which is loyalty and comradeship. They have firm beliefs and stand unwaveringly behind what the deceased liberal and reform-minded president stood for.

They uniformly emphasize the people and public service. They want to create, as they describe it, a “community where people live happily.” They are willing to combat any difficulties for their common goal. Because of their strong beliefs, they can easily unite to follow a call and rise up after falling.

In contrast, the president has collaborators but not many comrades. Representatives Chung Doo-un and Jeong Tae-keun, who were deputies under Lee during his service as Seoul mayor, have turned into Lee’s main critics. But Lee cannot complain. His no-nonsense and all-business nature have elicited reciprocal behavior from his aides. He has been too business-like in politics, and therefore, he is surrounded by those who seek self-interests rather than higher values.

Lee’s fall and Roh faction’s rise does not guarantee a revival of the Roh age. Many still bear vivid memories of the failed experiments of President Roh Moo-hyun. The late president was eager but too idealistic and unskilled in practice, and that spelled disaster for the economy.

His extremes deepened the schism between the right and left in politics and society. If pro-Roh people want to regain power to pursue their common goal, they must overcome the past Roh mindset. Narrow-mindedness and impotence does not make lives better, but more tiring.

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

By Lee Sang-il
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