Honesty Is the Best Politics

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Honesty Is the Best Politics

The Kim Dae-jung administration today commences the second half of its term. According to several opinion polls, the public has a generally positive view of the government, that it has “done well so far.” Kim Dae-jung’s approval ratings reach as high as 70 percent in some polls. One common result of the opinion polls, however, is a low evaluation of Kim’s political performance. Although this is not the sole responsibility of the ruling party, Kim’s administration at any rate appears to have failed to alleviate the public's distrust of politicians. The main complaint of those surveyed is the administration’s failure to keep its word.

The ruling party's first falsehood was the so-called "DJP Agreement" of November 1997. DJ (Kim Dae-jung) and JP (Kim Jong-pil) agreed to implement a parliamentary system of government by amending the constitution by the end of 1999. The United Liberal Democrats (ULD), the junior coalition partner of the ruling party, was to take over the office of prime minister. They also agreed to divide the cabinet posts equally between DJ's National Congress for New Politics (predecessor of the current Millenium Democratic Party) and JP's United Liberal Democrats. The constitutional amendment necessary to engender the parliamentary system was put on the back burner after Kim Dae-jung’s inauguration, however. Early this year, the National Congress for New Politics became the Millenium Democratic Party (MDP), and discarded the parliamentary system plan from its platform. Nobody anymore expects that the promise of a parliamentary system will be fulfilled.

The relationship between the ruling party and the opposition is another problem. Leaders of the two have met several times and secured agreements, but most have been worth less than the paper they’re written on. No one, for example, considers the government to have fulfilled the promise that "the ruling party and the opposition will compete on policies, and develop functional parliamentary politics." This was stated in the April 2000 agreement reached between the heads of the two parties. After the April 13 parliamentary elections, they promised to legislate the election promises they had agreed upon. No signs of this becoming reality, however, are evident.

The Japanese ruling party, which has maintainined its grip on power in the form of a coalition government since July 1993, has also churned out a number of agreements. These agreements, though, are all based on policies. In 1993, eight Japanese political parties and factions abruptly left the Liberal Democratic Party and launched a coalition government. They also issued an agreement that clearly spelled out 12 policies, ranging from internal administration to foreign policy. The member political parties, if they fail to keep the agreement, must renegotiate or leave the coalition.

Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa formed the tripartite coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party and the New Komeito in October last year, but left the coalition this spring when their social security policy failed to make much headway. To conclude that Ozawa did not know how to contend in the political arena would be inaccurate. Rather, he chose his conviction to the policy over that of the party.

The day before yesterday, two candidates competing for MDP’s co-chairperson slots called for "separation from the ULD's honorary president Kim Jong-pil," and also for "independent accession to administrative power." The United Liberal Democrats were infuriated, denouncing the MDP’s "failure to distinguish between enemies and allies." A futile and pathetic war of words results because the MDP and the ULD have hardly any elements in common. They should remember that trust is won only when a person keeps his words.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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