[INSIGHT] What Happened to Promised Reforms?

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[INSIGHT] What Happened to Promised Reforms?

We had clung to faint hopes for improvement when President Kim Dae-jung promised to overhaul the state administration and the opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang vowed supra-partisan cooperation at the end of last year. But there is no longer what can be called politics in this country. There is only mudslinging and nary a sign of genuine politics with public interests at heart. What happened to the promised reforms? When the economy plunged into disarray, distrust of government policies deepened and the public turned its back on the administration, Mr. Kim promised to introduce sweeping administrative reforms. He also admitted the government was greatly at fault. But still no signs of changes as spring arrived. The ruling party leadership underwent a reshuffle, several cabinet ministers were replaced, and a call for "strong government and strong ruling party" emerged. Is this what Mr. Kim meant by reforms?

There is no mystery about what's needed, recalling the ruling party members' self-recriminations that had erupted at the end of last year will do. The problems they cited include the absence of rule based on law, concentration of political power on Mr. Kim's loyal followers, regionally biased appointments, pandering to public popularity, confused reform policies, and North Korea policy focused on political events. Like the public, the ruling party members demanded introduction of politics in tune with public sentiments and politics of dialogue with the opposition. But strong politics disguised as "law and principles" emerged instead, bringing with it fierce winds of crackdown.

The exclusion of those from Cholla provinces?r. Kim's home region?rom the new party leadership was viewed positively at first. Contrary to expectations, however, confrontation with the opposition intensified. All the new party leaders did was coming up with the unheard of schemes of lending its parliamentary members to the United Liberal Democrats to re-forge their coalition in an attempt to secure a parliamentary majority. Prospects for politics of compromise have never been dimmer. The "strong" politics Mr. Kim called for is manifesting its full force in the investigations into the intelligence agency's diversion of funds to the former ruling camp and in the tax probes into the press. The ruling party is congratulating itself for consolidating its internal unity and for wresting back the political initiative from the opposition. It is blowing its own trumpet for implementing "successful politics" that give it even the leeway to devise the strategies for winning the next presidential election.

The ruling party played its card shrewdly, since the investigations into the spy agency and the press are not the sort that the opposition or the press can easily challenge. The "strong" politics, accompanied by investigations and probes, gave the ruling party breathing space and clearly reversed its political fortunes. But it should also consider the adverse effects. There is not a shred of doubt about who must have authorized the spy agency's fund misappropriation, but the prosecution is bypassing the main suspect, reinforcing the suspicion that the probe was launched to subdue the opposition. Its failure to clarify former President Kim Young-sam's allegations of Mr. Kim's slush funds is also amplifying suspicions. The ruling party might be applauding itself on one side, but it should realize distrust is deepening on the other side. Despite the government's pretext of purifying the press as a means to justify its tax probes, they are a setback to genuine press reforms. The essence of press reforms lies in severing the links of collusion between the press and the power and in allowing the press to maintain a coldly critical attitude toward power. But the tax probes are causing the press to hunker down in fear.

State administration cannot be revamped through "strong" politics. It is imperative to restore genuine politics, by proposing real reform measures and seeking bipartisan cooperation with the opposition.

by Heo Nam-chin

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