[FORUM]Throw them out after 3 yearsThough the Korean economy is improving and developing, the nation's politics are deteriorating. Koreans are confused by politicians' careless and shameless activities and political scandals that burst out every day. In Japan, a female politician who had attracted public attention as a probable future prime minister recently resigned as legislator, taking the blame for the alleged misappropriation of wages for her secretaries. The scale of the alleged misappropriation is insignificant compared to those committed in Korea. In addition, some influential members of the Japanese Diet recently resigned because of a sense of responsibility for some problems. In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced that he would retire from political life after he finished in third place in the recent race for the presidency.
In Korea, it is hard to see a politician, especially a leading figure, retire completely from political life to take responsibility for a problem. Korean politicians tend to struggle to prolong their political careers through lies and pretexts, not only in the initial stages of scandals but also after a court has ruled that they were to blame for the scandals. To Korea politicians, it has become almost a custom to keep on challenging even though they lose election after election. As voters become fed up with such politicians, unexpected figures emerge as political stars.
Korean politicians must have been born without consciences. Because of our damaged political system, they have become unafraid of voters. Many measures to reform the political system and develop Korean politics are being proposed; they include even a regular sacrament of penance by politicians or the recall of "inferior" lawmakers. But the most fundamental and effective measure is to have politicians more frequently judged by voters ?in other words to cut the length of their terms of office.
I recommend that all terms should be cut from the current four years to three years. Some people may object to such a proposal on the grounds that it would make the political situation unstable. But a U.S. representative's term of office is only two years. The development of politics needs active renewal in the political sector. Since the nation is in a dynamic stage, a three-year term of office would be proper. I also propose that the terms of local council members and local government heads should be reduced to three years.
A president's term of office would be more appropriate if it were cut from the present five years to three years. To compensate for the change, a president should be allowed to hold the office for a second term if he stands for re-election. Considering past history, a president needs to be judged by the public by some method during the third year of his tenure. If we were to standardize all politicians' terms of offices to three years, we would also be able to hold all our elections in the same years. In other words, we would watch election campaigns one year, and then live in peace for the next two. In the current situation, we hold an election almost every year. We are scheduled to have an election for the National Assembly in 2004, a local government election in 2006, a presidential election in 2007 and another election for the Assembly in 2008.
Both former President Kim Young-sam and President Kim Dae-jung got good marks, on average, for their administration of state affairs for the first three years of their terms of office. In the third year of the former president's term, economic growth was 8.9 percent. In the third year of the current president's term, economic growth was 9.3 percent. Both presidents were supported by more than 40 percent of the Korean people in their third years in office. But economic growth and public support for both presidents plunged in the fourth years of their terms, and both of them almost stopped working entirely in their fifth years in office. If both presidents had held their office for only three years, both they and the public would have been happier.
But some people may say that if all elected leaders' terms of office were cut to three years, the frequent elections would add to the cost of running the country and generate negative effects like damage to the economy. That might be true in the short run, but we need to bear such costs in order to develop our politics.
The writer is director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.
by Ro Sung-tae