War on Regionalism Is Lip ServicePresident Kim Dae-jung seems to have a curious sense of reality. Two days ago, during a visit to Ulsan City Hall, the president spoke of the self-destructiveness of excessive regionalism, which he blamed on politicians and the media. He took the politicians to task for abusing regional ties and inciting interregional animosity for the sake of getting votes, and he accused the media of resorting to sensationalistic reporting of this issue for commercial reasons.
There''s no doubt that many politicians have made questionable use of regionalistic emotional appeals in past campaigns, but Mr. Kim was one of those politicians and he is probably aware that he himself is not completely free of regionalistic prejudices. Is he now trying to distance himself from politicians who exploit regionalism? Is not the main voter base of his own Millennium Democratic Party concentrated in one region, just like that of the opposition party?
As longtime observers of the extremes to which regionalism can go during campaigns not only for presidential elections but even for general elections in which the voters are picking their local representatives, we have hoped the government could come up with some sort of policy that would alleviate this disruptive, emotion-charged issue. So far we have been gravely disappointed. This administration has carried regionalism to even greater extremes than its predecessors, and the preponderance of official appointments from the ruling party''s home region is a case in point.
Of course, the administration denies that it has favored people from the Honam region and claims that the opposition camp is just feeling deprived because, in the process of adjusting the previous imbalance favoring officials from the Yongnam region, the administration has had to reassign some of the positions of power that people from the Taegu-Pusan area held for so long. As proof of their lack of prejudice, administration officials point out that more than 40 percent of the officials in the three highest levels of the civil service are from the Yongnam region.
Personnel from the Honam region were not absent from the rosters of officialdom in the past, although it is true that even those of very high rank were rarely appointed to positions from which they could wield real power. They felt stigmatized, as if they were token appointments. Since the current administration came to power, appointments from the Honam region and the ruling party have occupied every level, from the highest, most influential positions to government financial agencies to subsidiary organizations. One side effect of the preponderance of personnel from the same region in so many posts at so many levels is that connections with people from the Honam region have come to light again and again in the recent scandals.
Mr. Kim has said that he has done his best to promote harmony among the various regions of the country but has failed to defeat regionalism. The biggest reason for this failure is that the administration has continued to practice favoritism in its appointments. Since that particular buck stops with the president, it is doubtful that there are many who would agree with his assertion that he has done his best.
If Mr. Kim''s purpose in his recent regional tour was to promote national harmony as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, why did he feel the need to make statements that arouse negative regionalistic feelings? Until he wakes up to the reality that his administration is stacked with appointees from his region, the citizenry will never be convinced of the genuineness of his desire for interregional harmony.
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