Return of the Unfortunate Prince
Sohn said he would find solutions in the field. He traveled 12,475 kilometers (7,751 miles) by bus, taxi and on foot. He experienced 93 jobs, including baking, mining, farming, welding and forklift operating. His aides thought the day he returned to Seoul would be the day the tables would turn.
But neither television news nor the front pages of daily newspapers reported his whereabouts. Before he arrived at Seoul Station, North Korea conducted its first nuclear experiment. While nuclear fear swept the Korean Peninsula, Sohn’s arrival was not comparable in news value.
“I thought Sohn would be greatly disappointed after 100 days of challenges if no reporter was waiting for him,” recalled his publicity adviser. “I called newspapers and asked them to send reporters, even if they wouldn’t write about him.”
This is not the only incident that earned him the nickname of “Unfortunate Prince.” He is considered to have received little recognition for his competence, and he never got the right opportunity, despite his outstanding qualities. Compared to Seoul, residents in the province of Gyeonggi lack a sense of unity, and the post of Gyeonggi governor is not very influential, no matter how well he serves. Some say it is the curse of the Gyeonggi governor.
In March 2007, Sohn made the gamble of leaving the Grand National Party. Having been with the conservative party for 14 years as an assembly member, minister, governor and presidential candidate, he moved to the progressive side. Ten days before defection, he said, “It is my goal and role to help the Grand National Party win the presidential election.” The Grand National Party called him a turncoat, but he left the party as he “wanted to establish a new political order.”
A political career cannot be evaluated by whether a politician earns the party nomination as presidential candidate or is elected president. But in 2007 and 2012, the voters and party members did not choose him.
His “new political order” has never been completed. Sohn’s political potential never blossomed, but is misfortune or a lack of opportunity to blame?
Since Sohn retired from politics, he has been residing in Gangjin County, South Jeolla. But recently, he suggested he may return and “lead the establishment of a new order.” His comeback should be a result of more productive contemplation than his withdrawal from the Grand National Party.
Sohn also needs to explain why he retired one year and nine months ago, and explain why he wants to return now. He should tell us why the hero of the new order should be Sohn Hak-gyu and what has changed since he left.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 30
*The author is the political news editor of JoongAng Sunday.