By Kim Ji-soo
The news concerning former President Roh Moo-hyun and his aides receiving money came as a big shock. In fact, it was so great that it was almost anti-climatic. One of the first things that the former president did when he came into office in 2003 was pounce on the money-ridden politics carried out by the opposition, the conservative Grand National Party.
Watching him speak in the initial days of his presidency, there was such moral force and persuasive logic to his words as he denounced the opposition party and politicians for taking illegal political funds in truckloads. The criticism effectively debunked the GNP to a minority at that time, and marginalized one-time political bigwigs to the fringes.
The former president these days does not have the podium of the presidency, thus he voices his stance through his home page called ``Saram Saneun Sesang (World Where People Live)." When the investigation of the questionable transfer of money from his political ally Park Yeon-cha of Taekwang Co. surfaced and led to questioning of his friend and former presidential secretary Chung Sang-moon, Roh finally came out with an apology on the Web site.
In his online explanation, he wrote once again with persuasive logic ― but where is the moral force? His wife and his son were questioned several times over the transfer. The former president himself is expected to be summoned soon.
The implication ― or rather news about possible implication ― of the nation's First Families is sadly nothing new in Korean politics. Former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung saw their sons summoned. Among them, former President Kim Young-sam's son and former President Kim Dae-jung's second son were detained for receiving kickbacks in return for the exercise of their influence.
There have been attempts to explain the seemingly never-ending cycle of corruption associated with Korea's single-term presidency.
Because Korean presidents are not allowed to serve beyond their five-year, single term, they tend to reward people who helped them in their campaigns with political office. Because there are usually many to reward and not enough time, people who make it into political office are tempted to make the best of their appointment so to speak. Also, public offices in Korean politics are powerful and accorded with due power and authority.
Couple that with the Korean social fabric where it's not easy to refuse a request from some acquaintance, or to not accept a small token of appreciation, there is vast room for murkiness. But the nature of public office is to rise above the minutiae of the social fabric to serve the larger good, a purpose that is being lost in the Korea of today.
We have to wait to find out what the prosecution investigation uncovers about the money dealings between the Roh family and Park. But as we wait, a bitter sadness is hard to shrug off as we continue to digest the decline of a former president who espoused better equality, cleaner politics and reform. Dare we refute the first line of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land"?