Ahn’s graveside visits welcomeAfter announcing his presidential bid Wednesday, Ahn Cheol-soo paid his respects to late presidents - Korea’s first president Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae-jung - at the National Cemetery yesterday.
That marks a sharp contrast to Moon Jae-in, the freshly elected presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party, who visited only former President Kim Dae-jung’s grave. It sets a good example when presidential candidates pay their respects to all former presidents, regardless of differences in political orientation or affiliation.
Korea’s political scene has been dominated by a chronic malaise of extreme confrontation and division without a mature culture of dialogue and compromise. A prime example of such divisiveness is the narrow-minded perception of late presidents.
Apart from political differences based on firmly embedded factionalism, former heads of state are part of our history. Whatever their merits and flaws, each contributed to the advancement of our country: Rhee as the founding father, Park as the spearhead of unprecedented industrialization and Kim as a champion of democracy. Of course, evaluations of their achievements can vary from person to person. Nevertheless, they left legacies that deserve our respect no matter what our political inclination.
In that regard, Ahn’s recognition is desirable. He visited the National Cemetery to “learn from our history,” as evidenced by his remarks at his press conference the other day: “I will try to take a page from their merits and correct their demerits.” Such an attitude will likely lead to the “politics of inclusion and integration,” not exclusion and segmentation.
We hope Moon demonstrates such an attitude down the road. The Saenuri Party’s presidential contender, Park Geun-hye, gladly visited Bongha Village, hometown of late president Roh Moo-hyun - an iconic liberal in Korean politics - to pay tribute to him after being elected presidential candidate of the ruling party. But Moon said he could visit the graves of conservative presidents like Rhee and Park only after their cronies and supporters reflect on their acts and express regret. That image of Moon seems to be a huge departure from his earlier image as a calm and rational candidate.
Ahn has just begun his presidential race. A multitude of voters do not know who he is or what he will do as president. That’s why they are still curious and anxious. He should show them who he really is while keeping an image of a candidate for integration.