The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Kim Chong-in, a renowned strategist, has joined the United Future Party (UFP) to head its April 15 general elections campaign. As soon as he took the post of the chief campaign manager of the largest opposition party, he said, “The Moon Jae-in administration must not praise itself. The Korean people are overcoming the coronavirus outbreak on their own.”
Kim’s language is straightforward. Whenever he has a chance, Moon said the world is envying Korea. But the only thing the administration actually did was keep the gate wide open to the outbreak. Korea’s successful battle against the outbreak is the outcome of a system and policies accumulated through past decades. That is possible because a public health and insurance system was established in the conservative administrations to offer inexpensive yet quality services to all the people.
Interestingly, the first step of the public health insurance system was first introduced in 1977 when then President Park Chung Hee asked Kim, then a professor of Sogang University, to create a health care program for corporate employees. The next step — the public health insurance system for local subscribers — was created during the Roh Tae-woo administration in 1989 through the hands of Kim, who was Health Minister at the time. All infrastructure against the coronavirus outbreak was created by the conservative administrations, particularly by Kim. That was why Kim attacked Moon that he must not praise his own administration’s efforts.
If you know your enemy, you are safe. Four years ago, Kim headed the general election campaign of the Democratic Party (DP) at the request of its then Chairman Moon.
Kim also criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “The Soviet Union did not collapse because it didn’t have nuclear weapons. The North will surely collapse,” he said. Since former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, no one attacked the holy ground of a pro-North political party. Voters praised his bold remarks. Many voters who were fed up with the extremism of the pro-Moon politicians felt catharsis.
Kim led the then-opposition DP with such catchphrases as “Conservatism for politics, liberalism for economy.” While upholding the identity of the Republic of Korea, he pushed forward bold economic and welfare policies to win centrist voters. Kim, who served as the chief campaign manager of the DP in the 2016 parliamentary elections, must have detailed knowledge about the weaknesses and strengths of the DP, now the ruling party.
Now, he is working for the DP’s rival, the UFP, in the April 15 parliamentary elections. Many are critical of his change of sides. But if we look at the situation coldheartedly, Kim’s perception and pragmatism have not changed over the four years. The DP — which kicked Kim out and won the presidential election — has changed. It returned to the extremist pro-Moon party. It also became a narcissistic, delusional party that only works to protect Cho Kuk.
The country is weakened by Moon’s policies of creating splits. What triggered Kim to join the UFP was a sense of atonement that the ruling party would do anything if it wins the upcoming elections. He believes the country’s democracy should be restored. The opposition UFP and its supporters can use Kim as a turning point.
When announcing Sunday the UFP’s proposal for emergency economic measures to counter the outbreak, Kim used the expression that “the world has stopped” due to the virus outbreak. In the 2020 budget bill, created before the outbreak, many items are impossible to carry on. By the end of this year, about 100 trillion won ($81.6 billion), or 20 percent of the budget, will be left unspent. So Kim proposed that the National Assembly should hold a session immediately after the general election and approve a restructuring of the original budget. He said that will allow the government to have 100 trillion won fund to fight the outbreak and its impacts, without additional fiscal injections.
Creativity, meticulousness and feasibility are alive in his proposal. Kim does not oppose the government’s relief cash distribution in times of a crisis. But he is different from the officials of the Moon administration; he didn’t stop there. He had a plan to find financial resources to fund the plan without further burdening the people. Moon can come up with 100 trillion won based on Kim’s proposal and distribute it to the people.
According to Kim’s experience, the voters’ sentiments are formed only two weeks before the election. According to him, about 40 percent of the voters are middle-of-the-roaders or undecided. It means the race has just begun.