Out with the Old, In with the New
South Korea gives Taiwan a Lesson in Electoral Politics
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 20, 2007
Even though he was besieged by President Roh Moo-hyun and others on the eve of the election, Lee Myung-bak won by a landslide. The message was clear. The South Korean people wanted regime change. They wanted an incompetent ruling party out. No election tricks could change their mind.
South Korea's ruling and opposition parties found themselves face to face, daggers drawn. The public, however, had already lost its former political enthusiasm. Five years ago Roh Moo-hyun was elected on a wave of popular sentiment. Once elected however, his behavior was tyrannical, ignorant, stubborn, and betrayed the public's expectations. This is the main reason the public has lost its former political fervor. The younger generation in particular had high expectations for Roh Moo-hyun. But when they saw with their own eyes Roh's arrogance and decadence, the myth of the reformist ruling party was shattered. Chung Dong-Young, the candidate for the ruling party, was regarded as a clone of Roh and soundly rejected.
Given this background, the desolate mood during the election actually reflected a kind of calm. The public rejected Roh Moo-hyun, the lawyer. It affirmed Lee Myung-bak, the business manager. This reflected two changes in South Korean society. First, South Korea's old notion of "political turf," following a decade of tumultuous regime change, was swept away. Secondly, intense commitment to political ideology has been transformed into pragmatic concern for economic prosperity. This lowering of political temperature is a phase that people in a democracy must pass through if they are to become politically mature.
This election was essentially a test of strength between Lee Myung-bak and Roh Moo-hyun. Mayor Lee Myung-bak defeated President Roh Moo-hyun, on the basis of his record as mayor of the nation's capital. It was not that Lee had any personal charisma. Quite the contrary. Lee lacked the typical politician's polish and wit. Lee defeated Roh by virtue of his legendary restoration of the Cheonggyecheon waterway and his bulldozer tenacity. He demolished Roh Moo-hyun's ex cathedra sophistries. The key factor was the people. They decided they wanted to punish an incompetent ruling party and remove it from power.
South Korea's election has special implications for Taiwan. In both cases, the ruling regime lost popular support due to incompetence. Power struggles led to the indictment of major candidates, increasing social unrest. In the end, whether the public understands the Big Picture, and is able to successfully choose a new leader, will determine a nation's competitiveness and future prospects.
Over the past several years, South Korea's economic performance has been far better than Taiwan's. Nevertheless the gap between rich and poor, between old and young, has increased. This led to middle and lower middle class discontent and is the main force behind demands for regime change. In South Korean politics, the process of "out with the old, in with the new" happens very quickly, with little sentimentality. Take the Yeollin Uri Party, aka "Our Open Party." In four short years, a party that rose with Roh Moo-hyun, fell with Roh Moo-hyun. Althought the party changed its name and leadership, it could not win back the peoples' hearts. The voters' ruthlessness is a force for political change, and something to be reckoned with.
Taiwan's economy, meanwhile, is mired in depression. Yet we have people who insist on voting for Chen even though they are starving because of him. If voters forfeit their intellectual independence and blindly support political figures, what reason do political figures have to engage in self-introspection? Because Roh Moo-hyun lost the support of the people, he was forced to resign as leader of his party. Chen Shui-bian is knee-deep in scandals. Yet he is able to hijack the Democratic Progressive Party, force it to do his bidding, and continue dividing Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian is past redemption. Yet the Democratic Progressive Party hierarchy is content to accompany him into hell. No wonder DPP members are so demoralized.
The South Korean and international media still use "conservative" and "liberal" to refer to the nation's ruling and opposition parties. They consider Lee Myung-bak's victory a "conservative" victory. Similarly, the Democratic Progressive Party still refers to itself as Taiwan's "reform party." Alas these labels are no longer consistent with reality. Roh Moo-hyun and Chen Shui-bian may at one time have represented a force for the overthrow of authoritarianism and the implementation of liberal reforms. But once they assumed power they shattered their former image as idealistic reformers. They changed into arrogant despots who trampled democracy into the ground. These one-time liberals morphed into populist demagogues, leaving people with an overwhelming feeling of disillusionment and impotence. This was hardly democracy's original promise.
The Republic of China and the Republic of Korea have long been competitors. Citizens of both nations have long looked forward to democracy, reform, and prosperity. The ROC has obviously fallen behind the ROK in the economic realm. The ROC has always prided itself on its stability and pragmatism. But that is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. A new generation of leaders has appeared. How the two nations will compare in the future is something worth contemplating.
Roh Moo-hyun and Chen Shui-bian's political moves have been attempts to prolong their own rule by plunging the nation into chaos. If the people do not use their ballots to sanction them, then they are willingly handing their own destinies over to the devil.
2007.12.20 03:01 am