How to keep dividing the nationKey presidential addresses in Korea are traditionally made on the New Year, March 1 Independence Movement Day and Aug. 15 Liberation Day. President Moon Jae-in has made his last important presidential address before the March 9 vote on the next presidency on Tuesday to mark the Independence Movement Day. What should have bore the wisdom of an outgoing president did not take place.
Moon found the establishment of the 1919-1945 Provisional Government of Republic of Korea — or the government in exile in China — as the birth of a democratic government in Korea. Although the president had not directly mention it, he was reiterating his past belief that the founding of Korea dates back to the government in exile. He was restoking the deep-seated debate about the national founding between the conservatives and liberals in Korea.
The president made another controversial observation that the first democratic government had been under President Kim Dae-jung. He would be denying the governments before Kim’s administration. Moon’s comment could trigger a social conflict ahead of the March 9 presidential election. Former presidents Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam were elected through direct vote following a Constitutional amendment in 1987. When Kim Young-sam passed away, Moon paid tribute to the former president for “ending the military regime” through 40 years of democratization movement. He said the country was able to enjoy an improved democracy since his presidency. Was he denying what he had said before?
Moon rarely mentioned “democratic government” before. Ruling party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said he will open a fourth democratic government succeeding Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Moon if elected. Lee recently said Kim Dae-jung had restored the country from an international bailout, work his predecessor Kim Young-sam could not have achieved.
Moon may have violated his duty to neutrality in the election if he intentionally was following up on candidate Lee’s comment by defining Kim Dae-jung’s presidency as the “first democratic” government.
President Moon defined the March 1 Independence Movement as a campaign to resist hegemony-led global order. He contended that Korea must build strength to initiate its own history without being swayed by the international order led by global powers. The timing of the comment is controversial as it came amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He went on to say that only dialogue can bring about peace. How can we understand his remarks that peace in Korea is weak because dialogue has been cut off.
The president must commit to his duty and stay as the fair administrator of the presidential election.