[INSIGHT]Power and effort, will and reform

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[INSIGHT]Power and effort, will and reform

"All power should be exercised with caution. The truly powerful lead without effort. A struggle means the power is only an imitation. Greater power can be found if power is used with caution, on its own accord, which is a beautiful thing ?a sparking, shining thing."

Chong Hyon-jong published the above poem, "Power," in early 2001. It is uncommon for a poet in contentious Korea to outline the nature of power so shrewdly and concisely. There are varieties of power in Korean society, such as those exercised by the bureaucracy, by political parties and by the press.

The power of the president rules over the other powers so much that it is sometimes referred to as the imperial presidency. Part of the president's influence is exercised in his choice of his cabinet. The latest cabinet changes by Kim Dae-jung raised public expectations before the names were announced, but then the hopes were dashed.

What have past administrations done wrong, and how can this administration correct those wrongs in its remaining time in office? People expected the current administration to reflect on its problems and those of its predecessors and to show its determination to form a cabinet to attack those problems.

But the administration shows no sign of willingness to lower itself or restrain itself from exercising its power. It is following the road its predecessors also chose, by assuming a self-righteous and arrogant attitude just as most former administrations did when their terms of office drew to a close.

The military dictatorships of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan were arrogant to the end. Many expected that Kim Dae-jung's "people's government" would be different, but the newcomers used the National Tax Service and the Prosecutors Office to put their opponents under their thumb.

The people's government split the people and suppressed its opponents under the pretext of conducting reforms, and justified its conduct under the rubric of achieving justice.

The medical, education and press reforms were in fact violence justified by calling them reforms. The abuses in these "reforms" are so well-known they need no repeating.

Even if the reforms were conducted with good intentions, then have the two civilian administrations been apostles of innocence and justice?

The recent series of scandals involving high-profile figures showed that the current administration has been rotting from the inside. The misuse of power was rampant in both civilian administrations, just as it had been under the previous military dictatorships.

People have waited for the administration to show signs of improvement and live up to their expectations. We should be more patient, the administration says.

The people have waited for the government to reflect on past abuses of power, demonstrate a will to change and install a leadership team to make the necessary changes. But they could find no signs of self-reflection nor of a will to conduct sweeping political changes in this administration's remaining tenure.

That is why the press launched stinging criticisms and people sneered at the recent reshuffle. The shake-up displayed the administration's weakness and people lamented that the Kim Dae-jung administration would also end in failure.

"Most misery stems from deafness to advice. Most tragedy stems from deafness to advice. Now is the time for heeding advice; opening ears to advice makes the world a better place."

The lines are from another poem published last year by Chong Hyon-jong.

Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan said recently that it is not easy to advise presidents to do the right thing because of the power they wield. The cardinal has met all our presidents since Park Chung Hee.

The poet and the cardinal suggest that many powerful men who did not heed righteous advice ended up in tragedy.

The people understand from their experience that the powerful should lend a more attentive ear to the people and refrain from exerting excessive power, but those who have seized power ignore this sentiment. The military dictatorships knew only how to issue orders, but the regimes at least had a safety valve; mid-level officers could cover up to some extent the mistakes the leader made.

But in a civilian government, the power of the president goes unchecked. Only one person seems to have full control over everything. Unrestrained power is neither beautiful nor strong.

It is too early to despair. Some never give up hope that power will heed the advice of the people. That is the last gasp of patriotism left in the people.


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

by Kwon Young-bin

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