[Viewpoint] Life after the Blue House

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[Viewpoint] Life after the Blue House

A revolution is in the making. The political landscape has already taken on an unfamiliar shape. The ruling party’s defeat in the by-election in Bundang District, a posh middle-class neighborhood that has traditionally been a conservative base, was only the start. Software mogul-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo suddenly emerged as a political star - first as a potential candidate for Seoul mayor, which he didn’t follow through on, and now president, at least in the minds of his fervent supporters. With his backing, an rights activist belonging to no political party won the Seoul mayoral by-election. Then we had the primary to select the leadership of a new opposition coalition, the Democratic United Party, which hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens participated in through mobile phone voting. Opposition legislators are calling for the release from jail of Chung Bong-joo, a former Democratic Party representative who gained fame as a host of popular satirical podcast that spread false rumors about the president. Meanwhile, election authorities lifted regulations to allow campaigning online and through social networking services. We cannot foresee what new tools and technologies will come into our political lives in the future.

The evolution has begun. We have no idea where this will take us. And the changes are not limited to the politicians and their realm. The public no longer relies on or trusts the traditional media. Share prices sway on the hearsay zipping around the Internet and social networking services. Public decorum is a thing of the past. Even people among the elite class enjoy using ironic tones and bad language. The popularity of SNS, alterations in the public sensibility, and the empowerment of the average man and woman on the street - or on the Net - have all played parts. But the posh southern Seoul neighborhood of Naegok-dong was the epicenter of the changes. The controversy over the post-retirement plans of the president to build a luxury residential complex amid suspicions of real estate speculation and tax evasion set off the suppressed anger and frustration of young people against the hypocrisy of the elite.

The 492-square-meters of land in Naegok-dong was bought in the name of Lee’s only son. We cannot know whether the purchase was made secretly for security reasons, as the president’s aides insist, or to evade inheritance taxes. It’s hard to believe that President Lee, who is rich enough to donate 33.1 billion won ($29 million) to a public foundation, broke the law to scrimp on inheritance taxes. Moreover, everything would have become public once he moved into the house. If the allegations prove to be true, he has been as foolish as if he held an important summit with a foreign head of state and ruined it by stealing a plate at the state banquet.

It is hard to change one’s fundamentals. No matter how a person tries, he can’t see or act beyond his abilities. It would be a great misfortune for the country if a mediocre person in public office had loyalty only to his own family. He could end up throwing away his life’s work for the family.

According to a person who was involved in the deal with the Naegok-dong property, the land had been offered for sale in one lot at around 8 billion won. The land had not been separated for residential and commercial purposes. The lot zoned for commercial facilities, purchased at a high price by the presidential office, is virtually a wasteland unfit for a residence. To the seller, it doesn’t matter how the land is used as long as he or she gets the money. If a deal is made, that would be that. The realtor is said to have gone into the presidential office to give a briefing on the blueprint. The first lady is rumored to have arrived at the site guarded by several security cars. What the prosecution discovered and how much it can expose remains to be seen. There are more than a few who are familiar with the controversial land deal. It is best the person directly involved admits and apologizes for any wrongdoing.

Even if nothing was illegal about the deal, it is strange that the president has chosen land in the Seocheo district in southern Seoul to retire to after he steps down from office. It’s not where he lived or grew up. Why does he want to build a fortress in a secluded area? Why did he need over 2,000-square meters of land for security reasons? How long was the president intent on living there? Once the national security term for the ex-president expires, what would happen to the enormous piece of land? A former president is a national asset. He has a lot to do for the country after retirement. In America, former presidents are often fielded to solve diplomatic conundrums. Former presidents must be looked after well to prevent them raising illegal funds during their presidencies. But they must not use the state coffers to decorate their backyards. Why can’t presidents of our country return to ordinary lives? We already have one ex-president - Chun Doo-hwan - who cordons off a block around his house to prevent intruders. His case is understandable as he had made many enemies during his regime. But why does President Lee want to go into exile and keep a distance from ordinary folks? Why can’t we have an ex-president who walks around his town chatting with neighbors? The late President Roh Moo-hyun, after returning to his hometown upon retirement, was often seen in a cowboy hat with his granddaughter riding on the back of his bicycle. He also sacrificed for the follies of his son, but the president himself wanted to lead his post-presidency life as a farmer. The president should prepare for his retirement by pondering what kind of life he wants to build. It seems nostalgia for the late president Roh may all be thanks to his successor.

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

by Kim Jin-kook
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