S. Korea's hopes for unity dashed

Click to follow
The Independent Online
KIM DAE JUNG knows better than anyone that Korean politics is an unforgiving business but, for a few hours at least, he had his hopes.

A week ago, before the 45,000 strong crowd which flocked to the National Assembly for his inauguration as South Korean president, he made an appeal to his parliamentary opponents. "We will never be able to overcome today's crisis without co-operation from you," he said. "[You] must help me if only for one year - this year - when the nation is standing on the brink of disaster."

If the new president saw any real prospect of cross-party co-operation, he has been rudely disappointed in the last week.

A few hours after his speech, the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) rejected his choice of Prime Minister by boycotting the vote; on Monday opposing MPs were seen on national television shoving one another in the Assembly over the same issue.

With a bit of constitutional legerdemain, President Kim yesterday managed to form a cabinet, but his choice of prime minister has still not been fully endorsed, and he faces continuing political argy-bargy.

Mr Kim's troubles emphasise that his moral authority - as a lifelong democrat and former political prisoner - is far stronger than his political mandate.

Central to his troubles, and symptomatic of his weak position, is Kim Jong Pil, another veteran politician and the president's nominee for the premiership.

Yesterday, President Kim named a cabinet, but the best he could do for Kim Jong Pil was to name him as "acting prime minister", a decision which was immediately challenged by the opposition.

Without the support of Kim JP, Kim DJ (as they are respectively known) could never have won the presidency.

Even with the support of his partner's United Liberal Democrats (ULD), his majority was barely one per cent and, throughout the campaign, he made it clear that JP would be his prime minister.

This is despite the fact that, throughout their lives, the two have been on diametrically opposed political sides. Kim Jong Pil is best known for founding the notorious Korean CIA which arrested, tortured and attempted to kill the new president on several occasions.

The GNP, whose own presidential candidate was defeated by the alliance of the two Kims but which retains its parliamentary majority, has been milking this inconsistency for all it is worth.

As a one-time prime minister and associate of former military dictators, and lacking economic expertise, JP is an appropriate premier for a modern Korea, they argue.

All this might be convincing if it were not for the fact that the GNP itself, several years and changes of names ago, was itself the party of these same generals.

Some within the GNP acknowledge this, indeed their reluctance to allow a straightforward vote appears to stem from a fear that it will expose divisions and encourage defections.