No more slandersNo matter how fierce a presidential race gets, there should be limits. Avid pro-government groups just don’t care, however. A hardcore member recently drew a shocking mural entitled “Julie’s men” on the wall of a bookstore in Jongno, central Seoul. Julie refers to Kim Keon-hee, the wife of former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, a frontrunner in polls among presidential aspirants in the election next March 9. With subtitles such as “Julie’s dream! A dream for first lady” attached, the painting brazenly depicts the face of Kim and the men she allegedly made friends with before she married Yoon in 2012. Members of internet communities loyal to President Moon Jae-in proclaimed it a “pilgrimage” site, while opponents are staging a protest on the spot.
The intention behind the painting is obvious. But the artist’s freedom of expression cannot be an excuse if the work hurts others maliciously. A vulgar type of misogyny is also evident. (Yoon’s critics claim that she worked as a hostess, nicknamed Julie, at a hotel nightclub in southern Seoul before marrying Yoon.) Choe Jae-hyung, former head of the Board of Audit and Inspection and a presidential aspirant from the opposition People Power Party (PPP), has denounced the painting for degenerating democracy in the name of the freedom of speech. “Such dirty accusations are nothing but political violence and character assassination,” lamented Choe.
The lead-up to the accusations against Kim are also dumbfounding. It turned out that a pro-Moon YouTuber met with the 94-year-old mother of a lawyer, who allegedly had lived with Kim, and coerced the mother, a dementia patient, to say what he wanted to hear. The lawyer denied all the allegations and threatened to file a suit against the YouTuber.
But the ruling Democratic Party (DP) supports the ludicrous allegations against Kim. Kang Ki-jung, a former senior presidential secretary for political affairs, joined the chorus by saying that dementia patients can only bring back old memories. That’s not all. The DP’s preliminary race to elect its presidential candidate is full of dirty language. Asked about a scandal with an actress in a television debate, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, the frontrunner among DP candidates, said, “Should I lower my pants again?” Even after they agreed to not wage a mud fight against others in a TV debate, they are stuck to “below-the-belt” battles.
Instead of competing with visions, presidential hopefuls are engrossed in contemptible assaults. This is not a path for our presidential contestants to take. They must present future visions for the country and clearly explain questions about their pasts. That will help our democracy take a step forward.