Kim Byong-joon’s tears

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Kim Byong-joon’s tears

In August 2014, when the special act on the Sewol ferry disaster was the most controversial topic, the attention of the public was on whether President Park Geun-hye would meet with relatives of the victims. The dominant sentiment at the time was that the leader’s role was to hold the hands of the father who lost his precious daughter. I asked Kim Byong-joon, then a professor at Kookmin University, on how to resolve the situation.

Since he had been a policy adviser in the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration, I expected him to say the president should meet and console the families. But I was wrong. “There is no need for such a meeting. The president is not the pope. She should propose a practical solution rather than comfort them. If she does not have a solution, meeting the families because of public opinion would aggravate the situation,” he said. While his explanation sounded convincing, I had to wonder if he really had been pro-Roh.

I’ve called Professor Kim numerous times to get an expert opinion on sensitive political cases to write news articles. His answers have always been realistic and convincing. He was an outstanding political commentator, with a theoretical background in public administration and practical experience in the Blue House.

A progressive scholar, Kim was basically anti-Park Geun-hye. But he had a special affection toward the position of the presidency, after having worked for President Roh for five years. He advocated for National Assembly reform, criticizing it for staying behind and blaming the Blue House at the same time. While he attacked a proposal to restore state-authored textbooks as “anachronistic,” he also criticized the liberal camp for claiming the textbooks were not left-leaning. I was surprised there was a politician with such a balanced perspective.

So when I heard that Kim was to be nominated as the new prime minister on Nov. 2, I was impressed by President Park’s choice. I thought she was trying to settle the situation by appointing a prime minister with an opposition streak and then retreat.

But I was naïve, knowing so little about Park Geun-hye as a politician. In her second apology on Nov. 4, she did not even mention Kim Byong-joon. There were rumors that he was being used as a quick fix. For a while, politicians would discuss who the next prime minister would be and what authorities he would have, and the focus would shift from calling for Park’s resignation to who the next prime minister should be.

Were Kim’s tears just for show? Some may say he was blinded by ambition for power and ran toward the enemy line. But the course of Kim’s appearance in the political scene and then being abandoned makes me understand why Park’s cronies told prosecutors that they had simply followed orders from the president. It seems that she simply does not understand that in the end, it is all about people.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 9, Page 30

*The author is deputy cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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