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(News Focus) Late leader Roh's political legacy under spotlight ahead of his death anniv.

Politics 17:42 May 22, 2019

By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) -- One day ahead of the 10th anniversary of the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, his political legacy has come under the spotlight due to local politics marred by sharp divisions.

On May 23, 2009, Roh jumped to his death off a cliff behind his rural retirement home amid a widening probe by the prosecution into allegations that members of his family accepted illicit funds.

Roh, who served as the country's president from 2003 to 2008, was a liberal politician who fought to challenge regional divisions and authoritarianism.

The former president denied the allegations, but he appeared to have been pressured by the probe that dented his image as a clean, anti-corruption politician.

Ten years ago, his sudden death sparked an outpouring of national grief.

Historic assessments of Roh's political legacy are still divided. But ahead of the anniversary, experts said that the legacy of Roh's struggle to break down regionalism and push for reform highlights the extent to which the problems he faced continue to plague local politics.

This file photo shows late former President Roh Moo-hyun at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)

"Roh was a politician who acted in accordance with his political convictions to challenge regionalism," Yu Yong-wha, a visiting professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said.

"He also made efforts to eliminate the vested interests of those in power and ease polarization of wealth. But over the span of 10 years, the values that Roh espoused have not been realized in Korean politics," he said.

Rival parties are bickering over a set of contentious issues, prompting the National Assembly to sit idle for months and jeopardizing key bills on people's livelihoods and reform.

Political tensions have shown no signs of easing over a couple of parliamentary panels' decision to put key political and judiciary reform bills on a fast-track in early May.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party has staged political rallies against the fast-track drive outside the National Assembly, shunning mounting calls to focus on legislative efforts.

Intensified tensions indicate that the political parties have already geared up for the 2020 general elections, a key event that will shape the political landscape ahead of the 2022 presidential election.

With about one year left before the parliamentary elections, partisan wrangling has only confirmed that regionalism and ideological divides are still nagging problems in Korean politics.

Liberal President Moon Jae-in entered the third year of his presidency earlier this month, facing the challenge of propping up the slowing economy and promoting national unity.

Moon was Roh's chief of staff from 2007-2008 and shares his political philosophy with the former president.

He took office in May 2017, following the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over corruption scandals.

South Koreans voluntarily staged candlelight vigils in late 2016 against the scandal-hit Park.

Moon has pushed to eliminate deeply rooted ills in society, but some critics said his drive has brought to the fore his inability to embrace political opponents for unity.

"The reform drive is being pushed for, but there seems to be a shortage of efforts to seek social integration," Ko Jin-dong, a political analyst, said.

"Politicians are also only embroiled in strife and wrangling. They should move forward for unity to meet the people's expectations for the new politics."

The memorial service for Roh will be held on Thursday at the Bongha Village in Gimhae, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, the hometown of the late president, under the slogan of "New Roh Moo-hyun."

"The three top policy priorities under the 'participatory government' were to pursue democracy with the people, build a balanced society where everybody lives well and to seek peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia," Rhyu Si-min, chief of the foundation, told reporters in April, referring to the Roh administration.

"We've chosen this theme (with an aim) to view existing tasks from fresh perspectives, not to find something new," he said.

South Koreans visit the Bongha Village in Gimhae, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on May 22, 2019, one day before the 10th anniversary of the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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