[INSIGHT]I'll Be Watching Reform Moves Closely

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[INSIGHT]I'll Be Watching Reform Moves Closely

The political situation is changing dramatically since the resignation of President Kim Dae-jung as the head of the Millennium Democratic Party.

The president has said that he would only attend to state affairs and not take a stand in political disputes.

The Millennium Democratic Party, which has been reluctant to help in investigations of scandals, is becoming more cooperative. Some government appointments made recently gave the impression that the regionally biased personnel policy is being changed.

Those changes are bringing new hope, especially since the government and the party both stress President Kim's nonpartisanship, a tacit admission that his administration had been partisan in the past.

But it is too early to be optimistic about the remaining year of Mr. Kim's term. The main issue is political and government reform. Although the political situation is different these days, it is hard to say that any reforms are already in place.

Additionally, the president has a history of changing his mind. With so many promises broken, Mr. Kim is viewed with suspicion.

Some persons speculate that the president will intervene in next year's nominations of provincial governor and mayor candidates; I plan to watch the president and the Millennium Democratic Party in three categories.

First, I will carefully examine the president's reaction to public popularity. In order to devote himself to state affairs, the president should not let popularity cloud his decisions.

Recently several interest groups - farmers, laborers and teachers - expressed discontent over government policies. If their demands are unreasonable and could affect the well-being of society, Mr. Kim must act firmly even if his popularity with those groups is affected.

If the president negotiates with interest groups to retain his popularity, it would be a clear sign that the president has personal ambitions.

Another category is personnel appointments in the government. Reform will clarify the president's intentions. When we see how far the president goes to reform the present regionally biased and crony-centered key posts, we will see his real intentions.

If he intends to adopt a balanced and fair personnel policy, there is no reason for him to postphone personnel reform until after the regular session of the National Assembly.

The prime minister is ostracized, the economic team has lost credibility and the administration is viewed as corrupt. A new, diverse cabinet could probably recover some of that credibility and, as one example, win quick National Assembly approval of next year's government budget.

There are also demands for throwing out high-handed administrators in public enterprises and national institutes. Without such personnel reforms, the president will have a hard time being neutral in state affairs.

The third category is the normalization and the neutralization of public power. This category is the most significant issue; politics must be separated from the work of sensitive institutions like the prosecutors office, the police and the intelligence service.

The three recent financial scandals have revealed their unhealthy relationships. National Intelligence Service officials have been shown to be corrupt, and Mr. Kim's appointees to the prosecutors office have concealed information about corrupt activities. If high-level government officials did not know about those scandals before they broke, it means that the senior officials are incompetent; if they knew and looked the other way, the government itself must be corrupt. A few days ago the prosecutors said they would reinvestigate one scandal, but it is too late to win back public trust. The political neutralization of these institutions is crucial.

Although the president has resigned his post as the head of his own political party, it is still hard to say that he has entirely stepped back from the political arena. There is speculation that he may have other intentions and is just waiting for the opportunity for his return to politics.

To dispel such suspicions, the president must proceed with government reform. His resignation will only be meaningful when the reforms are in place - but reform of government personnel and the neutralization of influential institutions has not yet begun. Even reform within the Millennium Democratic Party seems to have ended with the president's resignation.

Mr. Kim must realize that his resignation is not the end but the beginning. It will not be easy to go through with the reforms, because he may lose powerful ties and antagonize close friends. But if he does pursue these reforms, he will receive wide public support.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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