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[NOTEBOOK]Climbing inside Mr. Roh’s mind

Mar 31,2003
An interesting scene unfolded at last week’s Blue House dinner in which President Roh Moo-hyun hosted floor leaders of the governing Millennium Democratic Party and the opposition Grand National Party.
When Mr. Roh expressed his regret over the delay at the National Assembly in the passing of a proposal that would send Korean troops to Iraq in support of the United States, Rhee Q-taek, the GNP floor leader, repeated, “I am sorry.” By contrast, Chung Kyun-hwan, representing the MDP, sat there calmly as if nothing had happened. The unusual scene raised a question: Which one was the opposition floor leader?
The movement in the political community also goes beyond common sense. Most opposition lawmakers advocate the dispatch of the Korean troops, while half of the ruling-party legislators oppose it. When the issue appeared on television talk shows, GNP members spoke in favor of dispatching troops, whereas MDP lawmakers said “No.” Isn’t it a reversal of roles?
The statement issued Wednesday by the National Human Rights Commission is confusing, too. President Roh has already expressed through a nationally-televised speech his support of the United States’ war in Iraq and has decided to send Korean soldiers there. But the human-rights panel openly criticized Mr. Roh’s decision. On the same day, Sun Jun-yeong, ambassador to Korea’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, told the UN Security Council that Iraq was to blame for causing the war by not disarming itself, a remark that strongly backed Washing-ton’s position.
President Roh’s attitude seems equally unusual. The government’s official position is to support the Iraq war and send Korean troops. But Blue House officials say that the decision does not reflect the president’s real thoughts. Saying that President Roh is reluctant to support the war, they try to emphasize that Mr. Roh’s decision has resulted from his strategic choice after a long time of agony. While Mr. Roh stresses the inevitability of the proposed troop dispatch, he repeatedly uttered, “To oppose the military support is the Korean people’s right of self expression.” Although he has asked people to stage anti-war demonstrations within legal boundaries, he has never requested them to stop the protests. Clearly, he is different from his predecessors.
Although many new mainstream faction members of the MDP are opposed to the troop dispatch, we have never heard that the president tried to persuade them to agree with the government’s decision. Such an attitude has resulted in a strange rumor circulating in the political community: Will lawmakers who are against dispatching of troops be a new party?
We are now witnessing an unheard-of political drama, in which the president is saying that objecting to the sending of troops is people’s right, while the human-rights commission is openly criticizing the government’s policy.
Of course, there can be differences of opinion within the government. Mr. Roh noted that he didn’t take the commission’s opposition seriously by saying, “That is what the commission is for.” Considering that democracy flourishes on soil that allows diversity, the phenomenon is understandable. The government should have various opinions voiced from inside.
But the differences are needed during the decision making process, not after a policy is decided. The government commission’s official opposition to the nation’s important policy implies that the organization is confused about its identity as a governmental institution, not a nongovernmental organization.
Could the government forgive prosecutors if they criticized the government when it pardons the Hanchongryon, a group of left-leaning university students? Perhaps the government will not do so, saying that prosecutors are different from the human-right commission members.
Roles of parties could change depending on which issue they are dealing with. But civic groups threaten to campaign in next year’s general election against legislators who vote for the proposed bill for sending troops to Iraq.
Under the circumstances, the president is making irresponsible decisions by asking ruling-party lawmakers to vote their conscience, while requesting opposition legislators to play the bad guy’s role that could cost them votes in the next election.

* The writer is political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Du-woo


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