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Moon must outshine loyalists

Even if he wins the election, chances are high that he will be seen as… a figurehead.
Mar 25,2017
Moon Jae-in’s recruitment of Kim Chong-in as the campaign strategist for his party last year, in fact, was not the first. He made his first attempt four years ago. Ten days before the presidential election, around Dec. 5, 2012, Moon visited Kim. At the time, Kim was the strategist of then Saenuri presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. He was disappointed because she rejected his ambitious pledge of “economic democracy.”

Moon said he understood Kim’s agony and asked him to participate in his campaign. It was the ultimate of political engineering to shock and awe the enemy by recruiting the opponent’s strategist at the height of a war. Kim, however, rejected the offer, saying he could not join the other side and betray his candidate during a campaign.

Four years later, in January 2016, Moon visited Kim again and tried to persuade him for three days. “I will not leave unless you promise to work as my party’s chairman,” Moon said. Kim’s wife reportedly asked him to support Moon. Kim, who had already left the Saenuri Party, joined the Minjoo Party of Korea, the predecessor of the Democratic Party, as its acting chairman.

With his strategy of rejecting nominations to key members of the so-called Roh Moo-hyun faction, such as Lee Hae-chan, the party scored a strong victory in the general election.

But Moon supporters completely changed their attitude after the election. They attacked Kim fiercely by saying that he was attacking Moon, despite the party’s defeat in the Jeolla region, although the party had given him a job after he was abandoned by Park. Enraged, Kim surrendered his lawmaker seat and left the party, claiming it had gone back to rely on the hegemony of Moon supporters.

Ahn Hee-jung, South Chungcheong governor and a presidential contender, wrote this week in a social media post that “Moon makes the people sick and tired of him,” and the message supports Kim’s argument. Moon, of course, has his own side of the story. But he deserves the criticism, because any politician who argues with him is bombarded with phone messages from his supporters, and Moon does not try to stop this. “A politician should be able to tolerate telephone terrorism,” Moon said.

Lawmakers supporting Ahn, such as Reps. Park Young-sun, Park Yong-jin and Lee Chul-hee, recently said they have joined the “more-than-one-thousand club.” This means they are receiving more than 1,000 phone messages daily from Moon loyalists who are going after politicians critical of Moon.

Moon loyalists’ behavior is linked to the tragic death of the former President Roh Moo-hyun. They are overwhelmed by the trauma that they have failed to protect Roh, and they decided to make Moon his successor. Any criticism toward Moon is unjust in their eyes. They do not hesitate to attack any critic of Moon. Ahn, also an associate of Roh, used to be considered a family member, but he cannot be an exception when he attacks Moon.

In the end, the problem is Moon. According to the Democrats, Moon appeared to be agreeing with his supporters by treating their rage as somewhat normal, although he admits that their radical actions are not appropriate.

Relying on a faction armed with victim mentality and defensive exclusivism, Moon is defending his own wrongs by telling opponents not to start negative campaigns. And yet, he is gagging his critics with telephone terrorism. That is not different from the attitude of the ousted former President Park, who refused to communicate with the public and maintained her highhandedness by relying on her loyalist group, sentimental of her late father and dictator, Park Chung Hee.

Moon doesn’t have to abandon his core supporters. He, however, must put forth efforts to persuade them to join the general public, rather than being dragged around by his supporters’ attitudes.

He must not rely on the statements written by his associates and talk about his own thoughts instead. Then, he won’t have to face criticism for flip-flopping.

He may feel insecure, and if the insecurity is too much to take, he can just continue as he has done and prepare himself for the number of people who dislike him to skyrocket, though the number of people who support him may also grow.

Even if he wins the election, chances are high that he will be seen as little more than a figurehead president.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kang Chan-ho