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Positive Populism

Posted June. 11, 2010 12:02,   


Gyeonggi Province Gov. Kim Moon-soo spent 24 nights away from home between the day after he registered as a candidate for the local elections to two days before Election Day. He visited town halls in rural villages, welfare facilities for children and the elderly, and dormitories for factory workers to win voter support and slept there. In his first term as governor, he met people in his province by driving a taxi on weekends for a year. His on-hands experience and self-discipline are assets that helped him win three terms in the National Assembly and two terms as governor since 1996.

Kim backed away from disputes over the country`s core values, including national identity. He called certain groups who remained silent on North Korea’s dictatorship and human rights abuses as “pro-North Korea anti-government groups.” When one of his aides told him while he was at a television debate, “If you mention the Cheonan incident, you could lose points so just go over this,” Kim said, “Even if I lose in the elections, I must say this.” He criticized those who oppose the four-river restoration project, saying, “Those totally unrelated to water go to the river and hold protests.” He also blasted hypocrites who claim elite schools must be eliminated but send their children to prestigious foreign language high schools.

Main opposition Democratic Party member Lee Jae-Myung, the mayor-elect of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, has raised controversy by saying he will sell a luxurious office building. His idea is to sell the building, which cost 322.2 billion won (258.1 million dollars), for about 700 billion won (560.9 million dollars), to construct a new building for 200 billion won and spend the profit of 500 billion won (624 million dollars) on health care, education and welfare. Though selling a public building to the private sector is not easy, this idea should be appreciated if it does not incur additional taxes and increases the welfare budget. This is not something warranting criticism as populism but even if it is, positive populism trumps negative populism.

Kim and Lee send a meaningful message to both the ruling and opposition parties. The ruling Grand National Party must transform itself into a compassionate conservative party that cares for the socially marginalized based on conviction of national identity and economic development. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, must differentiate itself with a policy that increases welfare while not burdening the national coffer. A competition between conservatives borne from comfort and complacency and liberals who broke with unhealthy populism is desirable for the nation.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)