The least worst candidatePresident Roh Moo-hyun used to call himself “the youngest and last son of the old era.” He also said he wanted to become “the eldest brother of the new era.” But he set out to be a demolition man of the old era rather than a builder of the new one. Before beginning the new era, he believed that it was his role to deny the past and destroy and remove it to create the path for the future.
Come to think of it, we had other demolition men before Roh. President Kim Young-sam dismantled the powerful military generals’ association Hanahoe. By doing so, he managed to put an end to the authoritarian military regime. President Kim Dae-jung carried out the conglomerate restructuring.
And Roh fought against the authority of the past, reversed legal judgments and historical interpretations, and restructured the influence of the media. He truly deserved the title of the “youngest and last demolition man.” Then, when will the old era end?
All three major candidates in this year’s presidential election vowed to open a new era. Are we really going to enter the new era? Park Geun-hye even changed her party’s name to “Saenuri,” while Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party vowed to become “the eldest brother of the new era” after the pledge of his mentor Roh. Independent Ahn Cheol-soo also put “new politics” on the front line of his campaign.
It would be natural for voters to easily imagine the great future of a new Korea, but with only about 40 days left before the presidential election, we are left with no such vision.
President Kim Dae-jung had policy promises prepared in advance. President Roh argued that Korea should be the balancing factor between the United States and China.
But this time, we are left with no vision and the presidential election is filled with image competitions and spontaneous, sugar-coated promises.
All of the three candidates have focused their campaigns on the “past.” They went back to 50 years ago and investigated the history associated with the late strongman Park Chung Hee and Roh’s remarks.
Their policy pledges are no different from those presented by the youngest brother of the old era.
Moon has even earned the designation that he is a resurrected Roh loyalist, while Ahn has done nothing but criticize the old era. He has no plan for what he will do in the future. And Park is too afraid of leaving the shadow of her father Park Chung Hee.
The only thing that they have barely avoided from the past would be political engineering. Calculating votes based on opinion polls, bargaining with the votes and reversing the popularity order are the biggest issues. Although Moon and Ahn have announced the grand promise of “shared values,” they have also said the goal is to stop a particular person - Park - from taking office.
Even when they talk about the extension of voting hours, voters’ rights are the last issue they discuss. They have no intention to seek out various alternatives or decide if the extended hours will continue to apply to other elections.
All they care about is whether they can win the upcoming election in a few days or not. Even the constitutional amendment plan to change the country’s governance system was used as a vote-getter. There seemed to be no blueprint, ambition or deep thoughts on the future of this country.
The Korean Peninsula is facing great turmoil. North Korea is seeking to change to solidify Kim Jong-un’s rule.
Instead of trying to take the initiative amid such a change, not a single candidate is presenting a vision on how to cope with the situation. The global economy is in its worst crisis, and Korea has fallen into the swamp of slow growth.
The candidates only chant slogans that lack substance about how to boost growth and create jobs. They merely talk about conglomerate bashing, strengthening regulations and pork-barrel pledges.
It is too much to ask them to make an appeal to the people to cooperate together to overcome the crisis like Kim Dae-jung once did in the aftermath of the foreign exchange crisis by initiating the gold donation campaign.
The national pension system will run out of money in 40 to 50 years, and the problem won’t just disappear by promising that the government will guarantee payouts.
Are the liberal candidates really confident that they can even cover up their pensions with tax money while ignoring growth? Or do they really plan to put a heavy burden on the shoulders of our children?
The liberal candidates promise that a patient will have to spend no more than 1 million won ($920) for medical expenses, but they all avoid telling people that the pledge will require a health insurance premium of three times that amount.
The Roh administration was cursed to reform the national pension system and health care for fiscal stability, but none of the candidates actually presented any better promises.
Park is not an exception because she was also trying to compete with her rivals’ pork-barrel promises.
It is lamentable that the race this year is about the competition between small-minded candidates. It is a tragedy that the presidential election has become the selection of the least worst candidate, rather than picking the contender to invest in our future, hope and dreams.
If the leaders have no vision, elder statesmen must play the role to inspire voters. But even they are pushing forward the political engineering of the candidacy merger of the liberals.
Does this mean that they will be the puppet-masters after the election? If there is a hidden governance agenda that is not judged by the people during the election, that is extremely dangerous.
It is inevitable that Moon and Ahn will have a fierce competition to distinguish one from another because the decision will be made by factions within the same group. That’s why it is regrettable that they decided to wait until the very last minute to select who will stay in the race.
Although there will be only one month before the Dec. 19 presidential election after the liberal merger, the candidates must debate national agendas and talk about their hopes and dreams.
*The author is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook