[FORUM]Savoring Chicken Ribs at Their Own Peril

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[FORUM]Savoring Chicken Ribs at Their Own Peril

In 1987, Roh Tae-woo was elected the 13th President of Korea, the first president after the constitutional revision that prohibits presidents from serving more than one term. Kim Young-sam took office after Mr. Roh, and the last year of each of their five-year tenures was filled with bitter memories. As Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam's days were coming to an end, the focus of national administration and reform goals became unsteady; presidents started to favor only a few of their appointees; and the core organizations of political power became shaky. As its final year fast approaches, the Kim Dae-jung administration is now experiencing the same disorderly weariness.

The lethargy of the last days of the Mr. Roh administration was caused by its failure to draw up a clearly focused and succinct agenda for national administration. Mr. Roh's self-inflicted confusion was caused by clinging to the idea of changing from the presidential system to a cabinet system, which formed the basis of the merger of the then ruling party and two opposition parties - one led by Kim Young-sam and the other by Kim Jong-pil - about 18 months before the presidential election. Mr. Roh hoped that he could maintain his influence through the overhaul even after he left office. But Kim Young-sam, whose intention of marrying his party with his two rivals was not to promote the cabinet system but to make himself a prominent candidate to be the next president, adroitly watered down the plan. Roh eventually ran out of time, but like the Chinese saying: "Chicken ribs" not much to eat but too good to throw away, Roh could not give up on the plan easily, which hurt his administration.

The issue of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's return visit to Seoul is already a worrisome situation. The return-visit issue was put at the top of the agenda after Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2000. Rumors circulated that Kim Jong-il would come in April. Then again, it was said he would come in June. The trip was again delayed to September. With the schedule of the supposed return visit repeatedly delayed, the public became more skeptical, complaining that the government was pampering North Korea to bring an untrustworthy Kim Jong-il to South Korea. The biggest damage came from the impression among the general public that President Kim Dae-jung was trying to lure Kim Jong-il at the expense of more desperate issues, such as the economy, elimination of corruption, and wrapping up the reform drive. Now, Kim Jong-il would not receive much of a welcome if he were to come. The return visit issue is about to be a chicken rib.

Another difficulty for the Kim Dae-jung administration is that the three pillars of its administration are shaking. The prosecution and the tax agency were the major tools for the Roh administration and the Kim Young-sam administration in pursuing policies, managing political power and resolving problems stemming from term differences between the president's tenure of five years and the assembly representatives, four years. So it is in the Kim Dae-jung administration.

Kim Dae-Jung added another pillar, civic organizations, as an outer support to overcome the limits of his small party.

For the three pillars to operate normally, ethical discipline must be pursed endlessly. The president must not be seen to favor certain members of his party. But the prosecutor general, Shin Seung-nam, and the former minister of construction and transportation, Ahn Jung-nam, who led the tax agency until recently, are suspected to be President Kim Dae-jung's favorites.

If the president's trust were confined to a handful of people, his political base would undoubtedly be weakened. Monopoly of the president's trust by a small group in the final days may be a critical mistake that could undermine the motivation and morale of the ruling party for eliminating corruption and wrapping up reforms. Lame duck is said to come from inside, not outside.

People want to hear President Kim Dae-jung say in his own words that he is not obsessed with the matter of Kim Jong-il's return visit. President Kim Dae-jung must distribute his trust more evenly. The Kim Dae-jung administration must reset priorities and face the general public.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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