Democracy is an art of compromise

2023. 9. 25. 19:49
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Now is the time to end the overtime playoffs of last year’s presidential election and start the new politics of unity.

Lee Ha-kyungThe author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

After being expelled from politics by the military regime, then-opposition leader Kim Young-sam fasted for 23 days in protest of a dictatorship in 1983. The Chun Doo Hwan administration tried coaxing him to stop the hunger strike and leave the country. Kim refused. “You can send my dead body abroad,” he said. Kim Dae-jung — another opposition leader who went into exile in the United States because of international pressure while awaiting execution — protested against the military government by setting up an emergency countermeasure committee. He contributed an opinion piece to the New York Times to let the world know about Kim’s lonely battle against the government. After the news, democracy activists at home and abroad broke their silence and united.

As the head of the Party for Peace and Democracy in 1990, Kim Dae-jung staged a 13-day hunger strike to restore local autonomy after 36 years. The two Kims were elected president one after another because the people recognized their dedication to democracy over their own interest.

Their hunger strikes represented the justified resistance by the politically weak. And they changed history. Current Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Jae-myung’s recent 24-day hunger strike was allegedly aimed at stopping “the rampage of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.” But he failed to win public sympathy for two reasons. First, he is not the weak but the head of the majority party in the legislature, and second, the purpose of his strike was apparently to draw public sympathy for himself, not for public interest.

Three months ago, Lee vowed to give up Korean lawmakers’ unique privilege of not being arrested while legislative sessions are underway. But just a day before the National Assembly voted on a motion to allow his arrest, Lee pleaded for help from DP lawmakers to vote down the motion. It was pathetic.

On Sept. 22, the 23rd day of his “hunger strike,” Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung talks with members of the majority party at a hospital in Seoul. Lee said he will appear before the court on Tuesday to demand the judge to dismiss the prosecution’s request for his arrest warrant for two criminal charges. [NEWS1]

After the motion was passed, Lee rejected calls for his resignation and insisted on “marching on without any hesitation,” and urged his supporters to unite. He hinted at the possibility of exercising his nomination power even from prison if he is detained. His hard-core supporters said they will find out who voted for his arrest, threatening to end those betrayers’ political lives. That’s a barbaric outrage that has nothing to do with democracy.

About 10 cases surrounding Lee involve suspicions of bribery and embezzlement during his time as Seongnam mayor and Gyeonggi governor. He should not have drawn the party into his own scandal, but he did indeed. Instead of taking time to reflect after his narrow defeat in the last presidential election, he rushed to run in a by-election and won a legislative seat and became party leader. The mammoth party under Lee’s helm did everything to shield Lee from his deepening judicial risks over the past 16 months since the launch of the conservative Yoon administration.

The impeachment motion against Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, passed by the DP-led legislature, was unanimously dismissed by the Constitutional Court. It was also difficult to understand the DP’s decision to abruptly submit a motion to dismiss Prime Minister Han Duk-soo for no proper reason.

The DP that blindly worships the party leader is critically swayed by Lee’s radical followers. Fandom politics is just a whirlpool of impulses and rage, and no one is taking responsibility. It thrusts a rational majority into a world of silence. Lee must stop exploiting the rampage against public sentiment.

Lee must not shake up the democratic system by privatizing the DP for his own survival. He must separate his judicial risks from his party before it’s too late. Didn’t he insist on his innocence? If he gives up the privilege of no arrest, proudly accepts judicial judgment as an individual, and is acquitted, his political revival can be possible.

As humans who are born imperfect, they will never be able to see the substance of things. The same goes for the political world. You must listen to other people’s opinions, even if they are harsh to your ears, and exercise the wisdom of “arguing but not fighting.” Democracy is a process of building solidarity through compromise. Now is the time to end the overtime playoffs of last year’s presidential election and start the new politics of unity.

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