Wanted Now: Signs of Real ReformThere''s No Mystery About What''s Needed; President Kim Must Change First
The political atmosphere seemed to have changed oddly during President Kim Dae-jung''s trip to Oslo to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony. There had been a sense of urgency, even desperation, before he left for Norway, which even made the President to vow to the people that he would overhaul the party and government administration upon coming back. The sense of crisis had been so overwhelming that some people even questioned the need for him to attend the award ceremony.
But as soon as he left, however, the focus of interest switched to the ruling Millennium Democratic Party Supreme Coucil member Kwon Roh-kap, the party kingpin and Mr. Kim''s loyal follower since the 1970s. The urgency of party and administrative reforms abruptly lost steam. Instead, the ruling party has talked of nothing else but the fate of Mr. Kwon these last two weeks, as though he were at the heart of reforms. The MDP did not seem to be taking great pains to discuss essential issues such as the causes of the current crisis and ways of overcoming it. All that surfaced were internal party conflicts between the pro- and anti-Kwon Noh-kap forces. Mr. Kim''s close aides also said that the president was agonizing over the calls from his own party for Mr. Kwon to step down from the front line of politics. One had the impression that party and administrative reforms hinged solely on Mr. Kwon''s resignation.
It is unclear whether the MDP had really worked to settle the conflicts over Mr. Kwon, or whether it was deliberately trying to divertpublic opinion for the inevitable. But Mr. Kim and the ruling party are deluding themselves if they believe Mr. Kwon''s resignation from the party leadership will solve problems or that it would appease the public''s demand for reforms.
Towards the end of the previous Kim Young-sam administration, the president''s son was arrested for corruption, but that did not help the administration out of the crisis it had been facing. While Mr. Kwon was a big part of the problems afflicting the current administration, his removal from the scene will not end the crisis, nor will Mr. Kim receive public applause for the belated measure.
It was Mr. Kim who had tacitly agreed to a system which allowed his loyalists to hold sway over state administration. If Mr. Kim really wishes to renew the party and administration, banishing his cronies is only a natural beginning. The system that is going to fill in the resultant vacuum is more important, but Mr. Kim has yet to give a hint about this.
Although the administration constantly talks about crisis and reforms, there are many signs that it still doesn''t know what to do. Despite vehement criticism of biased personnel appointments, a person who had faked his educational background was recently appointed the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
Such a person would never have been recommended and approved for the position if the administration had really felt a sense of crisis and had the slightest intention to introduce real reforms. Then there is the matter of the civil servants who were mobilized to welcome Mr. Kim''s return from Norway. We are left speechless that such an anachronistic method of playing up to the leader is still employed. Many civil servants had also been mustered when Mr. Kim went to Pyongyang for the summit talks in June, but the incident passed without anyone being held accountable. Since the same thing has happened again, it forces us to believe that the administration and Mr. Kim himself enjoy being cheered by such staged gatherings.
Reforms are impossible while such attitudes and methods continue. There is talk of an imminent reshuffle of the ruling party''s leadership, replacement of several key presidential aides and another cabinet shakeup in next February. There is no guarantee, however, that these measures would solve problems. How effective are the reforms going to be if they mean merely employing other loyalists and sycophants of the president? It is a great tragedy if the administration believes it can sidestep the demands for reforms by such expedients.
The key to solving these problems is clear. Mr. Kim himself has to change, as countless people have pointed out. It isn''t necessary to acquire any more public opinion as to the solutions. It seems indolent of Mr. Kim to seek opinions from former presidents, the opposition leader, and various strata of the society only now. The answers have been offered numerous times by those ruling party members who have been frank and by the news media. Mr. Kim should not need to find new answers He should implement the answers already provided, and implement them with a sense of urgency befitting the crisis and the circumstances.
The first thing for him to do is present an outline of his new resolve regarding the direction of state administration and his own leadership. Reforms specifically demonstrating that new resolve must follow soon after. Mr. Kim must not cloud the focus of, or water-down the pressing need for party and administrative overhaul.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok