A dereliction of duty

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A dereliction of duty

Major public office holders like representatives of the National Assembly strongly impact the lives of ordinary citizens as they enjoy privileged access to the state’s classified information, enact laws and have a right to monitor the administration’s activities. As such, voters who elect them to office are entitled to ask what kind of beliefs they have on key issues involving national security. It is their duty to answer such questions. That is a fundamental principle of a civil society that goes far beyond the technical realm of the law.

On MBC’s “100 Minutes Debate,” a popular current affairs talk show, an audience member asked Lee Sang-kyu - the opposition Unified Progressive Party’s lawmaker-elect from Gwanak B District, Seoul - how he sees North Korea’s human rights situation, its nuclear ambition and its unprecedented third-generation dynastic succession of power. Lee flatly refused to answer the question, saying it’s wrong to demand answers about an individual’s ideological affiliation as “it suffocates their freedom of conscience.”

Such an incomprehensible response from a key figure of a leftist opposition party is not rare. Lee Jung-hee, when she was a chairwoman of the now-defunct Democratic Labor Party, responded to a question on a radio program two years ago in the same manner. When the audience asked her if the North attacked the South in the Korean War or vice versa, she refrained from answering, saying she would come up with her own answer after thoroughly studying the cause of the war. “Hot debates are still going on,” she claimed.

Lee, of course, is entitled to his own ideas about North Korean issues, even a right to claim there is no problem with Pyongyang’s dynastic power succession or its nuclear weapons. In fact, Lee Seok-gi, a lawmaker-elect from the largest faction of the UPP, said in an interview that he sympathizes with the view of Song Du-yul, a sociology professor at University of Munster, that North Korean issues must be approached through its own internal logic.

But free thinking and free talking are different matters. A right to reserve answers to such major questions has nothing to do with freedom of conscience: It is a dereliction of duty by a public office holder. Lee Sang-kyu worked in the ‘80s as a member of the outlawed Revolutionary Party for People and Democracy. He said being asked about his ideological orientation choked his freedom. It’s the freedom of our society that is choked by his evasion.
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