Go to contents

Rift Between Roh and Chung: Too Wide to Narrow

Posted October. 17, 2007 03:20,   


The United New Democratic Party (UNDP) presidential candidate Chung Dong-young has begun to mend ties with President Roh Moo-hyun.

Chung is in desperate need for the president’s support in order to gain an upper hand in the final round to select a single candidate within the ruling circle. Even if he cannot give an absolute backing to Chung, President Roh, as the incumbent head of state, may influence the political process to turn against a certain presidential hopeful.

In an attempt to mend fences with the president, Chung also hinted at reconciliation by embracing pro-Roh politicians into the UNDP.

Chung announced his election as the UNDP candidate in a phone call to the president on the evening of October 15 right after his election was confirmed. On the following day, Chung told a radio program that he would put into practice Roh’s advice. It was his response to President Roh’s thorny remarks that Chung should embrace those to whom he inflicted injury and settle conflicts within the party.

The newly elected candidate also made a public apology, saying, “The only issue on which I disagreed with President Roh was the integration of the ruling circle. It was inevitable for a person who assumed the position of Uri Party chairman twice like me to walk out of the Uri Party and take the lead in creating a new party. But personally I feel very sorry.”

Expressing his regrets, Chung hinted at the possibility of meeting with the president later.

Still, the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae has turned a cold shoulder to Chung.

With regard to the likelihood of a meeting between President Roh and the UNDP candidate, presidential spokesperson Cheon Ho-seon said, “If a meeting is to be held, it would only come after a reconciliation that heals all the injuries and resolves all the conflicts,” an indication that sincere apologies from Chung regarding their past troubles must precede improving ties.

As for the president’s remarks on “those hurt by Chung,” Cheon said, “It is the president’s understanding that there were much conflict and clashes in the dissolution of the Uri Party and the UNDP primaries. President Roh, who has had great affection for the Uri Party, was hurt, too.”

President Roh was a person who said that the Uri Party had a great cause and that he would like to go with the party till the end. Chung, however, dashed Roh’s hopes and disbanded the Uri Party, and what is more, he took the chair of the party twice. No wonder the spokesperson euphemistically but strongly criticized Chung.

Analysts predict that it would not be easy to settle the old scores.

The two people have neither met nor had a phone conversation after their last meeting on April 27. Chung notified President Roh to go their separate ways in May, and after his breakaway from the Uri Party in June, he has acerbically lambasted the president, who in turn stigmatized him as an opportunist.

Despite the past bickering, Cheong Wa Dae said that it would wait and see, opening the possibility of their reconciliation. This conciliatory gesture seems to have much to do with the burdens the president is shouldering.

President Roh has no reason to ditch the presidential candidate of the UNDP, which Roh himself branded as an example of orderly integration. Moreover, Roh himself was haunted by senior members of the ruling circle who called for the replacement of the then New Millennium Democratic Party candidate until the last minute of 2002 presidential election. Some believe that he has no other option but to help Chung for his supporters who are not able to withdraw from the new party.

Thus, it seems that their future relationship will depend on Chung’s stance on the sitting administration’s key policy issues such as parliamentary ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, follow-up measures of the inter-Korean summit, and personnel management of the ruling circle’s election committee.

According to a Cheong Wa Dae official, one thing clear is that restoration of their relationship to pre-UNDP years has a slim chance. Complete reconciliation seems unlikely given that the rift is too wide to narrow.

jin0619@donga.com gun43@donga.com