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[Kim Myong-sik] Outlook for March election is getting clearer

Jan. 27, 2022 - 05:31 By Korea Herald
Politicians make speeches far more than ordinary people do, even more than salespeople, perhaps. They speak of the policies they are pushing for the interests of the people, present their opinions about domestic and international issues, and expose their own personal matters or their political opponents’. In particular, they are capable of mixing truths with half-truths and outright lies when necessary for achieving their goals.

During election campaigns, they try their best to collect votes with words from their mouths. They meticulously prepare for their speeches with the help of experts and rehearse them if they have time. But there is no assurance that they are always in perfect control of their mouths; they tend to make slips of tongue to provide the media with unwanted gossip. Sometimes, they reveal thoughts hidden deep in their hearts.

“If I lost (in this election), they (the winning side) will create groundless criminal charges against me and put me into jail,” said Lee Jae-myung, the presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

He made the remarks while speaking before a large crowd at Seokchon Lake of Jamsil, eastern Seoul, last week, appealing for their active support to win the March 9 election. Running neck-and-neck with opposition People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, Lee made this surprising statement in the context of calling for “prosecution reform,” one of the present Moon Jae-in administration’s domestic policy goals.

Nonpartisan listeners were surprised for two reasons. They knew that it was President Moon Jae-in’s law enforcement authorities that put more than 100 people of the past government in the name of the “candlelight revolution” and gave many of them long prison sentences. Those incarcerated included two immediate former presidents, three former chiefs of state intelligence and one former chief justice of the Supreme Court. The 2022 presidential candidate now fears that he could follow their footsteps.

The other surprise was that the hitherto all-confident candidate Lee Jae-myung spoke of a defeat in the forthcoming election, even if the shrewd politician was just feigning a negative outlook in order to glean more votes from the undecided, neutral populace. But in truth Lee’s campaigners these days face a series of unfavorable developments which are expending the considerable edge they had gained from the internal feud within the opposing camp.

In a stunning move, some 5,000 Buddhist monks representing 12 major Buddhist orders gathered at the chief temple Jogyesa in the center of Seoul last Friday to denounce the present government’s “biased policies on religion and distorted treatment of Buddhism.” The first-ever massive convention of Buddhist clerics in their gray and red monastic robes solemnly declared “protection of the independence of Korean Buddhism.”

In multireligious Korean society, known for tolerance between different faiths, Buddhist monks have not particularly been recognized for activities either in favor of or against those in power, while the Christian community has been more assertive on political issues. The Catholic church, which had actively led pro-democracy movements during military dictatorships, is now seen distancing itself from the ruling leftists. Protestant churchgoers are generally in support of the conservative bloc in reaction to the current power holders’ reconciliatory stance toward communist North Korea.

President Moon Jae-in and Mrs. Moon, who have never been seen making the sign of the cross, introduce themselves as Catholics. Moon has recently made efforts to arrange Pope Francis’ visit to North Korea, still unsuccessfully, as part of his peace process on the Korean Peninsula. This might have caused the Buddhist leadership to feel sidelined in national affairs. Meanwhile, Lee Jae-myung claimed to have attended a Protestant church in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, where he was the mayor, although its pastor denied his membership.

Rep. Jeong Chung-rae, an outspoken DP lawmaker close to Lee, decisively stirred up the Buddhists when he compared the management of Buddhist temples to the legendary swindler Bong-i Kim Seondal, who collected fees from residents for drinking from the Daedong River. He was criticizing Buddhist temples’ charging entrance fees on climbers of hills within their precinct boundaries during a House interpellation session last month.

Scores of Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers went to Jogye Temple and held the ritual of 108 bows, but this effort to placate the angry Buddhists could not restrain them from staging the large-scale protest. Rep. Jeong and Democratic Party of Korea chair Song Young-gil tried to join in the monks’ rally in a gesture of apology but they were turned back at the temple gate. Following the unfortunate consequence of an individual lawmaker’s reckless remarks, the ruling party candidate is now anxiously watching collective protests by election management officials across the nation against President Moon’s misguided high-level appointment.

Three years ago, President Moon named one of his election campaigners the standing member of the National Election Commission ignoring strong objection from the opposition party. As Cho Hai-ju’s three-year tenure expired, Moon retained him as a nonstanding member of the board in an apparent move to fill the election watchdog body with overwhelmingly pro-government members. The NEC’s entire 2,900 staffers rose up with a joint statement challenging the presidential action. Cho resigned and Moon had to give up.

Cited above are some important happenings at the closing time of the Moon administration in both social and official sectors. And there are other instances of “power leakage” upon the closure of the constitutionally restricted five-year presidency. One example was the recent report from the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. to the National Assembly on the problems with the Moon administration’s energy denuclearization program.

It argued that nuclear energy is “safe, inexpensive and environment-friendly” in a total denial of President Moon’s grounds for phasing out nuclear power plants. After remaining silent these past years, it seems they suddenly realized the need to secure evidence with which to vindicate themselves when the time of reckoning comes.

To collect votes, Lee should also distance himself from all the bad legacies of the Moon administration, topped by its real estate and energy policies. Lee has already hinted at maintaining the present level of nuclear power generation if he is elected.

In the coming weeks, the outlook for March 9 will become clearer as individuals and groups disown anything that bear the “candlelight” brand of the Moon Jae-in administration in growing numbers in order not to fall into the trap of “the past evil.”

Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. He can be reached at – Ed.