It was hard to believe. Kim Dae-up, who was nabbed in the Philippines on June 30, was not the same person whom we saw 17 years ago. His listless stare belonged to an old man without any sign of vigor the man used to project. On charges of fraud, Kim fled to the Philippines three years ago and became wanted by Interpol.
The memory may have been faded for many, but Kim was a crucial factor that swayed the presidential election in 2002. In July that year, Kim Dae-up claimed that the son of Lee Hoe-chang, the presidential candidate from the Hannara Party, the precursor to the Liberty Korea Party, had his military registration record forged and falsified, and argued there was an emergency meeting to cover it up, jolting the political circles with a draft-dodging case.
The Democratic Party of Korea, which had been defeated in local elections in June, considered Lee’s dominant popularity as a serious threat and saw a golden opportunity in Kim’s draft-dodging claim. The party members put him on the pedestal, with Choo Mi-ae calling Kim “a brave citizen” and Park Yang-woo labeling him as “hero” with a faith to find the truth in the draft evasion case. Rep. Lee Hae-chan of the party stoked a controversy, making a comment with an apparent intention that the prosecution made a request to propose the draft-dodging allegation in an interpellation session.
The prosecution made an announcement on the interim results of investigation two months before the election, saying Kim’s claims are mostly “baseless.” By then, Kim had disappeared, and the prosecution that led the investigation said it wasn’t right to take judicial action against a reporter of crimes. Dealt a hard blow, Lee Hoi-chang saw his approval ratings dropping by as much as 11.8 percent. The truth evaporated amid political confrontations, and the keyword of draft-dodging was etched in the collective memories of voters. It was a paradox resulting from a frame battle. It was Roh Moo-hyun who carried the election with a margin of 2.3 percentage points (570,000 votes) against Lee Hoi-chang.
Of course, the fate of an election is not dictated by a couple of variables. And negative campaigns based on the opponents’ corruption scandals are inevitable in politics. What is noteworthy in this case is the fact that the “hero” was decided by the camp he stood for, rather than facts. In fact, a negative campaign without a facts-checking is closer to a crime than a campaign. Politicians must reflect if they have been exploiting the grey area of justice and wielding negative campaigns as if they were a sword of justice.
“I’ve been betrayed by Roh Moo-hyun’s people. I will divulge their hypocrisies and ugly truth,” said Kim Dae-up after he was excluded from presidential pardon in January 2008. He also warned that people should learn what those who called him a “hero” in 2002 must realize told him, how they rose to power, and how they wielded the sword of power against him. The remarks offered a glimpse into the possibility that his draft-dodging allegation was designed by political forces, but the officials concerned remained silent.
Once he comes back to Korea in two or three months after the investigation is over in the Philippines, the truth about his fraud and draft evasion claim must be laid bare. We need to ascertain if Kim was alone in taking the action during the 2002 presidential election campaign, or he made his moves based on some sort of connections to power. That is the way that we can prevent similar cases from coming up in the future. Political reforms are near in sight.