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A lonely path

Dec 02,2019
CHOI MIN-WOO

Rep. Kim Se-yeon of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) called his party “a zombie” and a “disgrace to history” as he vowed not to run in the coming April election. The spotlight shone on LKP head Hwang Kyo-ahn the following day. Instead of humbling or retorting to the harsh critical voice from within the party, he stayed reserved, only adding that he would step down if his party loses in the next election. Skepticism began to surge against the “passive leadership” of a former bureaucrat.

Then he suddenly declared he would go on a hunger strike. Even his closest aides tried to talk him out of the extreme and irrelevant move. But he was stubborn and sat tight in front of the Blue House. He eventually fell and was carried off to the hospital, ending his eight-day hunger streak. Many had questioned why he had to prove himself and his leadership through a hunger strike. The topics of protest — Seoul’s withdrawal from the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan and the ruling party’s push for electoral revamp — were not grave enough to stake one’s life. His aides called his move “a display of commitment.” But political scientists don’t agree. Hwang is an avid Christian. He did not miss Sunday evening mass even on his hunger strike. Because he could not come up with a suitable solution to the multiple challenges, he chose the most extreme action he could — shunning food.

His action was not in vain. Critics within and outside were subsided. His strike zone became a kind of mecca for the rightists. Some came to learn how excruciating and harmful lengthy fasting can be. The sight of the debilitated leader drew pity and sympathy from the public. “A martyr-like movement has compensated for the lack of political charisma” of Hwang, observed Yim Dong-wook, professor of Korea National University of Transportation.

A martyr is a solitary person who persistently pursues an absolute value. He cannot keep anyone nearby. The question is whether Hwang can commit to the lonely path after he returns from the hunger strike.