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Ending partisan battles

Feb 16,2017
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The nation is extremely divided. As the public has become the compass of state administration over the past few months, voices of the “thinking reed” contemplating the future of the nation have been overwhelmed by the roars of massive protests in the square. In the meantime, the square has become a place for battle between the liberals and the conservatives. As the politics of the public square tangles with parliamentary politics and constitutionalism, Koreans are growing more and more anxious.

Moreover, fake news and distorted truth are rampant in cyberspace. But no politician is willing to take responsibility. The president has been shameless — and unpresidential — since her impeachment, and the nation is adrift after losing its momentum before the big wave.

Amid pressure from the public and politicians, the Constitutional Court justices are reviewing the impeachment of the president. Their lonely endeavor highlights the same authority of constitutionalism that a U.S. federal judge in Seattle defended by suspending Donald Trump’s executive order. Regardless of the decision, the fight between the two groups will intensify, and the next presidential election is most likely to be a fight between the two camps.

Why do we repeat the tragic history of internal warfare when the nation itself is in jeopardy? Factional struggle has been part of the political genes repeatedly regenerating in our history. The political DNA that made Koreans get into factional fights even during serious crises such as the Japanese invasion of 1592 seems to have kicked in again. That gene was evident in the confrontation over the trusteeship after liberation — and between liberals and conservatives after Park Chung Hee’s assassination in 1979. As time goes by, the lives of the people have changed. But as liberals and conservatives with extremely fundamental views took the leadership, factional discord increasingly turns into a struggle for power.

When a presidential election is over after fierce competition and a new administration is established, the party of the winner and the anger of the loser collide. The ruling power consider the other side as an enemy and attacks them with investigative and administrative power. The other side has to resist stubbornly.

Factionalism blinds objective judgment and divides everything in the world into ally and enemy. Anyone not on my side is an enemy, and anyone on my side is tolerated. When one group emphasizes the Korea-U.S. alliance, the other side becomes anti-American, pro-China. When one side backs the business sector, the other side become hostile to it. As a result, there is no room for pragmatic and reasonable judgment.

In a sense, some tragic presidents were beneficiaries or victims of extreme factional fights. The self-destructive political eco-system was established because Korean people haven’t escaped from two legacies that dominated our minds. One is the extreme political and ideological prejudice as a result of the prolonged inter-Korean division. The other is the confrontation between nostalgia for the Park Chung Hee era and obsession for a reincarnation of Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

In such a barren political eco-system, it is not easy for competent people to be successful. When you don’t belong to a group and become an outsider, survival as a politician is a challenge. Once you join a group and become comfortable, it is not easy to display intelligence and ambition.

When the well-being of the group and clique is more important than the fate of the nation, no politician is willing to make a sacrifice for the future of the country. When an immature and unprepared candidate became an imperial president, she finds everything fearful. She became a failure as she hid in her faction in order to avoid attacks from the other side.

Now, the devastating factional fighting must end. If not, we may all be destroyed. Fortunately, some presidential candidates are willing to embrace the spirit of the time. Voters must support a wise candidate who can find balance and stabilize the nation. The next president must establish a practice of cooperation among different political groups. We must open an era of reconciliation, coexistence and mutual prosperity.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 15, Page 28