Blind to Kim’s legacyMourners continue to pay their respects to former President Kim Young-sam at hundreds of mourning altars across the nation. Regardless of age, gender and regional backgrounds, they are expressing their deep condolences for the leader of the democracy movement and national reforms. Their paying homage to one president contrasts with public outrage over politicians still battling over partisan interests and ignoring the proud legacy of inclusive politics practiced by Kim and another president, Kim Dae-jung.
A decade after their presidencies, our political circles are stuck in regressive factionalism instead of finding new leadership to fill the void left by those two legendary statesmen. While the two Kims led the country with a competitive yet cooperative relationship, current lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties adhere to ever-fiercer, all-or-nothing politics of revenge coupled with unceasing regionalism, factional conflicts and ideological confrontations amid an exacerbation of wealth polarization among the people. And yet, the two parties are also backpedaling on democracy - the ruling party through obstinacy and unilateralism, the latter through its signature outdoor rallies. No heed is paid to the need to pass urgent bills directly related to people’s livelihoods, including a ratification bill for a free trade deal with China.
The Two Kims’ leadership - deeply rooted in charisma - can hardly fit in Korea’s 21 century political terrain. What is required now is a low-profile leadership based on communication skills and cooperation instead of a hero type of politicians. However, rather than nurturing such a new breed of leaders, our politicians are engrossed in fueling the tenacious home turf-based politics that has led to a critical absence of farsighted politicians like the two Kims and an abundance of shortsighted politicians bent on seeking their personal or partisan gains.
Both the ruling and opposition parties must start a colossal revamp of how they go about their business. The former must shake off deep-seated authoritarianism and the latter must demonstrate an ability to address real problems. They must compete on the policy level but at the same time must cooperate on issues involving citizens’ livelihoods.
Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties are competing to praise former President Kim Young-sam. But they must invent a new type of leadership if they really want to uphold his last message of unity and harmony. If they want to declare themselves legitimate political heirs to Kim, they must keep that in mind.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26, Page 34