[INSIGHT]Political Reform Is a Matter of Survival

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[INSIGHT]Political Reform Is a Matter of Survival

"The ruling party wanted the Assembly to approve the appointment of a prosecutor general and favored the introduction of independent counsels when it was not in office, but when they took power, they turned their backs on their own words. This is because the ruling party wants to use institutions that served the past administration to its own ends."

Those words may appear to have come from an opposition party member at first glance, but they were actually spoken by Representative Chun Jung-bae of the Millennium Democratic Party at a panel discussion sponsored by People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy last Friday. The subject was reform of the prosecutors office. The problem is not with the prosecutors alone. The Millennium Democrats did not pursue their platform promises to shield the National Intelligence Service, the National Tax Service, the police and broadcasting companies from political influence. Their attitude towards those institutions has changed completely since they took office. It seems as if the MDP has no intentions of reforming the political landscape. They are taking advantage of the badly-managed political system as if it were a weapon that they can wield now that they are in power. This is the critical reason why the ruling party was shunned by reform supporters in its by-election defeats.

After the opposition sweep of last week's elections, some MDP members say their presidential candidate must be named early in order to prop up party morale. But most people are not interested in who will run for president next year. What the people said, loudly and clearly, is that the ruling and opposition parties should cooperate systematically in cleaning up our corrupt and badly-managed government institutions. No other interpretation of the election results makes any sense.

The administration has a golden opportunity to start reforms, and it would be dangerous for them to preserve the existing legislative system, social structure and customs which favor those in power. If they lose power in the next election, their successors will use those same systems and customs to take their revenge. This administration has only one more year left in power.

The opposition party is also in no position to reject reforms. Public support for the Grand National Party is static even while the popularity of the government and the ruling party is plummeting. The GNP is seen as incapable of proposing alternatives, and is also seen as dragging its feet on reform. Just as is the case with the ruling party, the opposition will be on shaky ground before the election if it rejects reform measures.

The ruling party laid out a road map for reform of government and political institutions even before it came to power, so ideas for reform are not new to them. They have to return to their mind-set while they were in opposition. Similarly, the opposition cannot claim that the present political system is without problems; they have attacked the ruling party for the way it has used the very system the opposition would be trying to defend.

For instance, let's think about reforms in the prosecutors office. The difference of opinion on how to reform the prosecution is not a large one; the two parties agree that the Assembly should approve the appointment of the prosecutor general, that independent counsels should be introduced and that persons or institutions other than the prosecutors should be able to bring legal actions against administration officials accused of wrongdoing. Such revisions could be agreed upon quickly if the two major parties had the political will to do so.

There is an upsurge of calls from the legal community to reform the judiciary. A group of younger judges has called for self-reform of the court system, and younger prosecutors are also watching closely how events unfold. The critical issue now is not whether to undertake reforms but who will lead the reform efforts. This kind of competition is always welcome.

Reform is a pressing topic these days, but the people have had a bellyful of mere talk about reform. Every time a new administration comes to power, the new leaders talk about how their first task will be to reform the system - then they become comfortable with the privileges and vested power that the present system gives them. The MDP should know better than anyone else how much their rise to power came about because of people who wanted reform and believed the MDP when it promised that those reforms would take place. On the other side of the aisle, the opposition now understands better than it ever did before how the instruments of power can be used to oppress them. Reform is now a matter of survival for both, and cooperation to institute the necessary reforms is the only way for mutual survival.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yu Seung-sam

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