Where Has Our Political Focus Gone?

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Where Has Our Political Focus Gone?

The focus of public interest and politics is shifting away from talk of a crisis. Only a month ago, we heard about nothing but the crisis in the economy, in the leadership and in every other sector of society. Calls for administrative and party reforms and for state management based not on personal rule but on a transparent system rang through the nation.

The focus of interest then suddenly switched to the fate of ruling Millennium Democratic Party Supreme Council member Kwon Roh-kap, the party kingpin and President Kim Dae-jung''s loyal follower since the 1970s, and to the replacement of the MDP leadership. It moved onto to the "loan" of MDP lawmakers to the splinter United Liberal Democrats, and again to the National Security Planning Agency''s diversion of its money to finance the then-ruling party''s parliamentary campaign in 1996.

The administration and the MDP''s chief interest now seems to be focused not on overcoming the crisis and on reforms, but on launching an all-out offensive against the opposition.

At a cabinet meeting, President Kim Dae-jung defended the loan of MDP lawmakers, and he is becoming directly involved in pressuring the opposition after his meeting with opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang broke up. In the process, finding the culprits for the failure to put the 100 trillion won raised in public funds to effective use and on whether an additional 40 trillion won will help complete restructuring ended without any conclusion.

Corporate and financial reforms, which the government pledged to complete by the end of last year, are stalling; there is no guarantee when and how they will be completed. The government used to issue daily announcements on its determination to pursue restructuring without delay; those announcements are now replaced by economic stimulus measures. The dizzying changes in the focus of interest are leaving the public bewildered as to where the country is headed.

Some people are benefiting from such shifts in focus, never mind the public confusion. President Kim is one of the beneficiaries; his position seems to be strengthening.

When the focus of the nation was on the economic crisis and administrative reforms, Mr. Kim had to apologize frequently to the people for his failures. He also faced signs of rebellion from within his own party. Mr. Kim is now blaming the opposition for the current national crisis. Calling for a "strong government," Mr. Kim says he will not base his policies on seeking popularity.

The MDP members are again highly sensitive to Mr. Kim''s thoughts as they try to read his mind, and the few younger lawmakers who occasionally tried to stand up against Mr. Kim turned mute. The whole situation reminds us of the classic tactic of using externally created tension to promote internal unity. Kim Jong-pil, honorary chairman of the ULD, is another beneficiary; he succeeded in reestablishing an alliance with Mr. Kim which will reestablish his political power.

The real issue is whether the nation will be able to overcome the current crisis despite the change in the focus of interest. Will political bickering and the crisis end if the ULD becomes a parliamentary negotiating group with the help of the three MDP lawmakers it borrowed? Will anything improve because the MDP and ULD re-established their coalition? Politics were just as chaotic as now during the days of their previous coalition. The current crisis would not have risen had this coalition worked well. As for the National Security Planning Agency''s funneling of funds to the former ruling camp, no one objects to disclosing the truth. But will the crisis be overcome and the administration overhauled if the ruling party''s offensive against the opposition succeeds and the opposition leader is cornered? Will public funds be retrieved and the financial and the public sector reformed if the ULD becomes a negotiating group and the opposition surrenders? Was it really because of the opposition''s lack of cooperation with the government and the ULD''s lack of parliamentary seats that financial union members and the police clashed in the punishing cold? What does the series of illegal loan scandals involving politicians have to do with the opposition or with a political party''s number of parliamentary seats?

These are side issues, not the crux of the issues facing us. No matter how rapidly the external focus of interest changes, there is no changing the essence of the problems, which are the economic crisis and a lack of leadership. These essential problems cannot be watered down or forgotten just because other issues grab our attention.

As long as the crisis is not overcome, the real focus has to be on the central problems: financial and administrative reforms, renewing the government administration, making changes in the leadership and reprimanding those accountable for policy failures. Resorting to tricky tactics without challenging the core of our problems might bring a brief victory in battle, but it will result in losing the war.

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