The real message of the electionPoliticians should not misread the outcome of Wednesday’s by-elections, which were a surprise landslide victory for the ruling party. The elections were contested by noted politicians on both sides and were seen as a mid-term referendum on President Park Geun-hye, dogged by controversy over the sloppy handling of the Sewol ferry disaster and its aftermath. The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy lost 11 out of the 15 contested races, including one in its political home base in South Jeolla. There, a top aide of the former President Roh Moo-hyun was running as an opposition candidate and lamenting that the Sewol calamity has been forgotten by the public. The NPAD believes that a bad selection of candidates and people’s fatigue with the Sewol crisis caused their defeat. The Saenuri Party, which increased its majority in the 300-member National Assembly, demanded that the opposition party cooperate in the drafting of a so-called Sewol special law.
Both the ruling and opposition parties clearly got the message wrong. The people have not grown tired of discussions about the Sewol tragedy and its aftermath. What makes them despair is our politicians’ impotence and irresponsibility in failing to pass a law to prevent a recurrence of a crisis like the Sewol sinking because of partisan interests. The public no longer associates social issues with politics. They clearly believe the lessons learned from Sewol must be put into practice regardless of the political rhetoric. But politicians went on mixing politics with an issue that is about public safety and lives. The people still bear grief, sadness and a sense of guilt for failing to save hundreds of young lives. They want to believe in President Park’s teary promise to rebuild a nation that can be safe.
We must not misinterpret the message from the maritime calamity. Everyone must yield, cooperate, and do his part to rebuild a reliable and sustainable nation. Bureaucrats who jeopardized public safety with their selfish pursuits must be reoriented. Public institutions that failed to save any lives as they disappeared from view must be built anew. The president has promised to do so and she has yet to deliver on that promise. The opposition lost because it focused on criticizing the government with nothing beyond rhetoric. The last election is a message to politicians from voters to return to the basics and make laws that make a difference as they are supposed to do. The Sewol ferry can never sink or disappear from our minds. The people are closely watching to see if the government and lawmakers keep their promises.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 1, Page 30