[INSIGHT]Past errors offer a future model

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[INSIGHT]Past errors offer a future model

Whoever wrote, "April is the cruelest month" knew what he was talking about.

Six Aprils ago, the situation was pretty much the same. It was the fourth year of the Kim Young-sam administration, and it was the Jang Hak-ro scandal making headlines then. Following the indictment of Mr. Jang, the illegally rich Blue House official, came the Hanbo scandal that eventually led to the imprisonment of Kim Hyun-chul, son of then-President Kim Young-sam.

When the Jang Hak-ro case exploded, I stated in a column that there was no guarantee that a similar scandal wouldn't occur in the next administration. When anti-establishment becomes establishment, it is easy for power to become a private possession. When the cronies and aides meddle in politics, it generally leads to corruption.

When those who have spent 20 years facing prison and death together are rewarded with positions, the power gets tainted with corruption, just as stagnant water gets spoiled. That was how the Jang Hak-ro scandal started.

The same thing happened when Liu Pang, the founder of the Chinese Han dynasty, first gained power with the help of his followers. The outlaws-turned-officials partied and drank in memory of their past glory. They called the emperor "big brother," in the patriarchal sense. As long as power becomes one of the spoils of a war, and as long as righteous outlaws dominate the center of power only to repeat their old ways of political struggle spring will always be cruel in Korean democracy. That was my column's prediction in April 1996 and, most unfortunately, my prediction has come true.

One of the five men who played leading roles during transfer of power from the outgoing administration to the Kim Dae-jung administration has now been found to have meddled in government business by approaching the president's son.

When word leaked out that the president's three sons were in trouble, it was the president's old friends who shielded them and tried to explain their actions. A man who spent most of his life supporting President Kim Dae-jung was arrested in a bribery scandal that involved one of the president's sons. National Intelligence Service officials and prosecutors, who are supposed to be "public" servants, fraternized with these personal friends. A police official, who should have been the very one to stop corruption by influence, fled the country amid allegations of scandal, raising concerns that the Blue House itself had been behind his escape.

The privatization of power, the confusion of "personal" and "public," the freezing of power in old hands ?these are all things we have seen in the last two administrations.

We've now twice gone through the "three Kim-style politics" of Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil, characterized by crony politics and regionalism, as well as reform and winds of change.

If we haven't learned our lessons by now, then we are doomed to never see the spring of a true democracy. To prevent this from recurring, there are some things we should promise ourselves.

First, we should strive to build a political system where common sense and logic function. If we want a "CEO president" instead of an authoritative "imperial" one, we need to check every word, action and policy.

How is an "imperial" president born? A group of cronies, formed by personal ties and evoking regionalism, mistakes legitimate power as a war trophy. These combine to form a one-leader structure where power is privatized. We should know. We've seen this twice.

Second, let's not get swept off our feet with showy slogans of reform and change. Even the Kim Young-sam administration undertook vigorous practices of reform during its early days. However, after the winds of change died down, there was a meddling son and a country on the verge of bankruptcy.

The Kim Dae-jung administration was uncannily similar. Its reign was marked throughout by conglomerate, education, medical and news media reforms. After the reforms, what was left? They harried innocent people in the name of media reform, and the education and medical reforms made things even worse than before.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't reform and change. I'm saying we should do it logically, following pure, rational, global standards. Let's give law and order a try. Instead of a storm of reforms sweeping the old order away, only to make way for cronies partaking in the spoils of war, how about a mild spring breeze that reforms what should be reformed and changes what should be changed and all in good time. Heaven forbid that I'll be writing another column lamenting the cruelty of April some five years from now.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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