[Viewpoint] Running on anger

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[Viewpoint] Running on anger

In January 2012, South Koreans got to experiment with French philosopher Jean-Paul Satre’s “engagement” theory, which called for intellectuals as well as ordinary citizens to take a responsible stand in political affairs of their era. The famous thinker wanted to create a political party to boost civilians’ participation in politics, but his hopes were dashed by the lack of interest of the French. His dream has been realized by people across the globe decades later.

The Democratic Unity Party was born through a coalition among the main opposition parties and civic and labor groups. In its leadership primary last Sunday, party members and representatives voted as usual. On top of them, 530,877 ordinary citizens joined in. The party experimented with the unprecedented - domestically as well as globally - use of modern technology. Ordinary citizens registered to vote on the Internet. Some 496,000 people voted through mobile phones. Voting for candidates via SMS will likely become familiar in future contests, and very soon. Mobile votes could determine the outcome of the summer primaries to select presidential candidates of the ruling and opposition camps.

In the DUP’s primary, citizens chose the old gang of the late President Roh Moo-hyun to lead the main opposition group in the battle to regain governing power. Han Myeong-sook, a former prime minister under Roh, became the chairwoman, and actor-turned-politician Moon Sung-keun, despite little political experience other than loyalty to Roh, came in second. The primary results were just what was desired by its orchestrator, Lee Hae-chan, another former prime minister under Roh and the mastermind behind the coalition and civilian e-voting in the primary. The press dubbed the outcome the “return of the Roh gang.”

But Roh loyalists reacted sensitively to such descriptions. Han criticized the press for trying to divide the opposition by emphasizing pro-Roh, anti-Roh and non-Roh groups. She clarified that she joined politics at the urging of former President Kim Dae-jung. Moon, a central figure in the Roh fan club Nosamo, also bridled, saying the press was intent on dividing the opposition. He also underscored his relations with Kim Dae-jung.

Park Jie-won, self-dubbed perpetual chief secretary of the late Kim, gave them a cold look. “I am doing politics in order to uphold the late Kim Dae-jung’s legacy and ideological principles,” he said. “I criticize the Lee Myung-bak government based upon this belief. The party also must do the same.” His words implied that he sees the two top party figures as coming from a different lineage, which was Roh’s.

Why do Roh loyalists wish to distance themselves from their beloved leader? They may be worrying about friction in the hastily merged coalition or association with the flaws of the Roh administration. Those times were indeed turbulent. Roh and his people promised a decent living for everyone, but what they delivered was a weary world of conflicts among different classes and ideologies. They now see the chance to move to the center of the stage because the Lee Myung-bak government has failed to improve the hard lives of the people. But the public remains unsure about their capabilities and whether they have improved from the past. Their test starts now.

Han has suffered a great deal. She had been frequently questioned by the prosecution about bribery and illegal fund-raising charges and twice indicted. She was found innocent in both cases. She must bear a heavy grudge. Moon, around the time of the first anniversary of Roh’s death, launched a kind of rebel group, crying he could not forgive or forget. He threatened to retaliate against Roh’s persecutors by regaining power.

Revenge and hatred may be the fuel of Roh loyalists. Roh jumped off a hilltop behind his residence while he and his wife were under prosecution questioning. Their anger is understandable.

But vengeance alone cannot win the people’s votes. Their fanning of the frustration and anger of voters under 50 won’t be enough, either. Ex-president Kim Dae-jung used to say, “Politicians should bear an intellectual’s awareness and a merchant’s sense of reality.” The pro-Roh forces, which defeated the Kim Dae-jung forces in the past, need a new leadership with a merchant’s sense of reality. With that, they wouldn’t need to cry out for the scrapping of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement or the president’s impeachment. Such rhetoric comes from anger, not common sense.


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

by Lee Sang-il
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