Out of the shadows

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Out of the shadows


The year 2016 is coming to an end, closing a meaningful historical chapter and leaving a dismal pall. We face the coming year with a heavy heart. Over the last two months, candles shed light on the shadows and an ugly side of our past. We spent the last two months in utter disbelief and shame upon having failed to notice and stop the preposterous wrongdoings and abuses of power by a clandestine group related to the president.

We want to kick ourselves for having had not thoroughly studied the character, psychology, creditability and sense of balance in the aspiring presidential candidate five years ago. Our hearts are heavy in helplessness wondering how we can restore the disgraced dignity of our nation. We end the year in collective defeat and regret.

We cannot feel triumphant by simply dethroning a shameful president when we think of the hardships to come. The economy is quickly freezing in spite of the fiery public heat that warmed the downtown streets of Seoul over the last two months. A headwind from outside is approaching with violent force. Yet politicians are oblivious to the looming dangers, as their minds are entirely engrossed in gaining the upper hand on a new political playing field.

What awaits us after the impeachment?

Multiple scourges could face us when we awaken from our political distraction. Life will become harder as the economy sinks deeper into stagnation. Subtle and acute navigation is demanded from our leadership in order to steer the economy safely through such tumultuous waters. At the same time, a new leader’s wisdom and insight will be tested in the face of a new and unconventional U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, and challenges from four global powers under a new political order.

We are anxious because we cannot have confidence in the candidates aspiring to fill the void of our presidency. Leadership in economic policy remains weak and chaebol chiefs are barred from leaving the country because they are implicated in the Choi Soon-sil scandal. The presidential hopefuls may be tempted to woo the people enraged by the wrongdoings of the president.

We must be alert so that the year 2017 does not end up in financial calamity amidst diversions with the presidential election as in 1997.

Bureaucrats should shake off their lethargy to tackle challenges in the transitional period. We must all unite to make sure the economy is not washed away by turbulent waves at home and from abroad.

The Choi-gate scandal has given us several moments of enlightenment. We realized we never completely grew out of the development model of Park Chung Hee in the industrialization period, even under the free democracy system of 1987. We learned there is no other way than impeachment to punish a president guaranteed a five-year term, and the same irresponsibility goes for politicians even when they idle away four-year terms. We are more aware than ever before that the time has come to rebuild our governance system. The idea has been floating around for ever but now we must wrestle it to the ground once and for all. We must completely free ourselves from the negative legacies of the Park Chung Hee days and block those attempting to gain power by appealing to a sense of nostalgia for President Roh Moo-hyun.

The people with candles in their hands on the streets of central Seoul were not merely calling for the president’s resignation. They were expressing frustration at worsening livelihoods and deepening polarization in a country with the world’s highest suicide rate and lowest birth rate. They have become drowned in worries about the future at the horrifyingly sight of the corruption of the mainstream. We are weighed down by the heavy challenges but know too that we are at a historical turning point.

We must hold our candles high to light up the path to a different future. We must remove the stumbling blocks and challenges one by one to clear the way for a new age. We must do away with narrow-mindedness and ideological obsession to build a vision for the future with a sense of balance. Politicians and policymakers must be faithful to their roles and duties so that people no longer have to worry about the nation and can return to their everyday lives. We survived this year. We must fight during 2017 with equal confidence and pave the way to a brighter future.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 21, Page 32

*The author, a former minister of commerce, industry and energy, is the chairman of the North East Asian Research Institute.

Chung Duck-koo
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