Oh behave!Rep. Ahn Hong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party came under fire for his heartless comment about the families of victims of the Sewol ferry sinking on April 16 that killed more than 300 people, mostly students. Some of the victims’ relatives have been on a hunger strike for 25 days demanding a fair and responsible investigation to determine why so many lives were lost. Ahn was heard talking to a colleague in a parliamentary hearing about the Sewol disaster raising questions about the validity of the hunger strike. “Can a person last that long if he or she really had not consumed anything?” he was heard telling a colleague. His conversation was taped by a TV camera that was used to cover the hearing. Ahn later explained that he was just asking a professional opinion from a colleague who also had been a doctor before he became a politician. Victims’ families lashed out at the politician asking if he would be satisfied to see someone die from a hunger strike.
Ahn, a former doctor himself, might have been genuinely curious from a medical perspective. But a politician who represents the people must carefully consider what he or she says. Ahn’s stray comment has splashed cold water on a breakthrough in negotiations between the legislature and victims’ families after the ruling and opposition parties finally reached an agreement to pass special legislation on the Sewol crisis. We cannot imagine what pain the families felt from Ahn’s careless and distasteful comment.
Some politicians have gone back to their old careless ways now that midterm elections are over. One of the Saenuri Party members who won a landslide victory in the July 30 by-elections casually said a family on hunger strike looked like a homeless family. The main opposition party, despite its poor performance in the elections, doesn’t seem too concerned. Its members joined the ruling party in the National Assembly’s Defense Committee to take a group picture after visiting the 28th infantry division where a private died after being brutally tortured. Rep. Yoon Hu-deok of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, while visiting a training camp for new recruits, told them they were lucky to serve in the military during good times. Could that have been appropriate after reports of violence and cruelty in military life?
If they really serve the people, politicians must think and speak on the people’s behalf. They must be discreet even in solitude. Few expect our politicians to contribute to mending the fissures in our society. But at least they must not worsen them. We sincerely beseech them to behave.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 9, Page 26