Liberal for Daegu rejects regionalism
Three years ago, former Rep. Kim Boo-kyum, a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), announced that he would leave Gunpo, Gyeonggi, his long-time constituency, in order to run in Daegu, the home base of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party.
His challenge, however, ended in failure. He lost, but at the same time became an icon of anti-regionalism.
Kim recently published a book, “The Nation That We Have Not Been Yet - For a Republic of Coexistence,” ahead of plans for a second run in Daegu in April’s general election.
“People are frustrated,” Kim said in an interview last month with the JoongAng Ilbo. “But I don’t have hope that our problems will be alleviated from our political circle.
“It’s hard to come up with a solution while [the ruling and opposition parties] ... keep blaming each other,” he continued. “I believe that any moderate politician from either side who pursues reasonable policymaking should organize a new political circle and make active moves to solve chronic social problems.”
“If I win a seat in the upcoming general election,” he added, “I would like to play a central role in forming such a political opinion group, undeterred by the existing political order.”
Regarding the controversy over state-authored history textbooks, Kim said that “the politicians who have little knowledge have to step back from this issue and leave it to experts and historians to find solutions.
“The ruling party’s argument that our current textbooks are teaching the Juche ideology [upheld in North Korea] simply doesn’t make any sense, and I don’t think the opposition was thoughtful enough by regarding this issue simply as part of the Park Geun-hye administration’s efforts to glamorize President Park Chung Hee.”
The following is an edited excerpt from the interview.
Q. Many interpreted your decision to run in Daegu, one of the nation’s most conservative cities, and leave behind Gunpo, where you were doing well, as a political show to extend your political life.
A. Why would I have gone to Daegu if my goal was to [become an assemblyman]? I have survived as a lawmaker, but I think I have the responsibility [to contribute to the promotion of democracy]. I received about 40 percent of the votes in the 19th general election in 2012. Had I not, I probably would have given up on running in Daegu a second time.
If you win in the general election next year, you said you would want to form a new political circle that transcends party lines.
If a couple of liberal politicians win seats from Daegu and North Gyeongsang and several Saenuri lawmakers win seats in Jeolla, it is clearly a sign that the public does not want regionalism to affect politics.
It is also a signal that the people want common solutions for social problems like youth unemployment, the country’s aging population, the economic slowdown and the swaying public welfare system - regardless of where their families come from. So I hope to organize an opinion group with members of the ruling and opposition parties who agree with me.
Does this indicate a new political party?
I haven’t considered developing this group into an actual political party. I just hoped there could be a group that could raise their voices regardless of which party they belong to.
There were attempts like yours in the past, but they all failed.
Past attempts [from politicians who called for political integration] ended up failing because there were major political figures with firm political bases in each region. But now, there are no such frontrunners, so I think regionalism - a chronic problem in Korean politics - can be solved.
Do you think it will succeed this time?
I think [political integration] may be realistically possible, considering that NPAD Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo is still popular. Ahn entered the political sphere without many substantial achievements, but he still has support in the 10 percent range. It’s possible because those supporters have not abandoned the dream [of seeing moderate politicians gain more authority] and expect that of him. I realized that there are many community-oriented people who pursue moderate and reasonable political agendas.
So far, I haven’t spoken up about my views for certain reasons. But from now on, I would like to play a role in motivating those people to speak up.
Is the late President Roh Moo-hyun one of your role models, considering he was a legendary figure in the Korean political circle for challenging regionalism?
Roh firmly believed in rejecting the existing order, steadily taking on challenges, and eventually succeeded in changing Korean politics. His passion made him an appealing person.
I’m more of a cautious person. I used to be part of the student activist movements when I was young. So I know how heavy that responsibility is. That sense of responsibility still is a burden for me, which makes me want to speak and act in a cautious manner. Although I rarely take action, I hope the actions I do take can actually change society, at least a little bit.
How is your perspective different from that of the late Roh?
He believed in the value of progressive ideas, but I believe in the coexistence of both conservatism and progressivism. I think the coexistence of industrialism and democracy can open up doors to the future. My beliefs don’t go well with the late president’s views. I pursue coexistence, which is often not welcomed by either side. Even though this belief system is unpopular, I hope to prove sometime in the future that it is a meaningful movement.
[Unlike Roh], I don’t consider my political philosophy as part of the political minority. So I was happy to see a reasonable leader like Yoo Seong-min, the former floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, emerge from the conservative side.
I would like to tell our conservative politicians that the ruling party should be ready to take on challenging issues. They should take the inter-Korean relationship to the next level.
Why do you think Roh failed to integrate the two political views?
I think Roh could have succeeded if he had had the patience and meticulousness that the late President Kim Dae-jung had.
Roh was really motivated. But realistically speaking, he was quite unilateral in convincing the public, leading the bureaucrats and connecting his own supporters and those who held different views.
Wouldn’t it be easier for you to run independently, instead of with the opposition, to win in the general election?
Many people have said that I chose the wrong party and that I would definitely win if I ran independently.
But I have heard the demands that the citizens of Daegu in their 30s to 50s have of me.
First, Daegu’s citizens have continued to support the Saenuri Party over the past three decades, almost unconditionally, but the party has not reciprocated this support. Despite its support, Daegu is suffering the most. So the people are angry, which I think is reasonable, in wanting to make the change themselves.
Another thing is that Daegu’s residents want to show other regions that it is a city where the opposition can also win. To them, whether it is the NPAD or the Democratic Party, it doesn’t matter. They want to elect someone from the liberal side who can call for something different than what the conservatives do. I can’t disappoint them.
Are you confident that you can win?
I can only know after opening the results, but I will say that Daegu’s overall reception of me has changed drastically. During the 2012 general election, the campaign trail was difficult for me. When I greeted people on the streets and gave them my card, they ripped it up right in front of me and told me I was a communist.
I could deal with it, but it really affected my daughter, who helped me with my campaign.
But nowadays, I am welcomed when I walk in to bars and restaurants at dinner time. People recognize my face, come up to me and even pour me drinks, reassuring me that “things should change in this election.”
*Kim Boo-kyum, Former assemblyman in the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD)
BY LEE JUNG-MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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