[OUTLOOK]A Political Cabinet Corrupts the SystemKorea's Constitution does not provide for a political system centered on the presidency, which is incompatible with the key constitutional principle of maintaining a balance of power among the three branches of government. Because the country has a president, we call our political system a presidency only for the sake of convenience. But experts and even opposition parliamentary members, not to mention the public, use the term "system centered on the presidency" without even realizing it. It seems our perceptions became distorted and fixed on the presidency after witnessing decades of the unfortunate practice of the president single-handedly controlling the state administration. President Kim Dae-jung seems to be no exception to this distorted perception, especially in view of the recent cabinet reshuffle.
Mr. Kim employed a large number of politicians, particularly those sharing close personal ties with him, in the latest cabinet shake-up. Most of the ministerial positions were filled with incumbent parliamentary members or those with a political background, giving rise to a "political" cabinet. And key positions at the ruling party and the Blue House were taken up by those sharing close personal relationships with the president?is former comrades in arms. It signals the revival of inner circle politics in which the presidential entourage exercises a leading role. According to press reports, the former mainstream of the Donggyo-dong faction, loyal followers of Mr. Kim since the 1970s, is at the core of the new inner circle line-up. One cannot help worrying about the nation's politics revolving around the president and the imbalance of power worsening more than ever before, when both a political cabinet and inner circle politics are at work at the same time.
Perhaps a political cabinet in itself should not be viewed too negatively, although it is not desirable for a politician to hold a high-ranking cabinet position and a seat in the National Assembly simultaneously, since it goes against the principle of the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. We can hardly say a cabinet consisting of politicians is fundamentally wrong (or abnormal if we are to speak more plainly) because the nation's Constitution adopts a compromised presidency mixed with elements of a cabinet system. In some ways, we can adopt a positive view of the parliamentary members - who are directly responsible to the people - leading the cabinet since they could promote a democratic administration of state affairs. There is also the chance that power over concentrated on the president can become diffused if the cabinet ministers work within a systemized framework without kowtowing to the president. But the story changes when the president's loyal followers are put in charge of the government as well as the cabinet. Mr. Kim's loyal followers can be compared with the faithful subjects who swore allegiance to feudal lords in the past. Will Mr. Kim's devoted retinue, who have remained by his side through thick and thin for several decades, be able to put aside their personal ties with the president to run the nation strictly based on the rules or norms of the system? Will they be able to practice the obvious mandate of being faithful to the system in performing their duties as ranking decision-makers?
State administration can only rely on personal rapport with the president when those close to the president, the inner circle, are put in charge of politics. Such personalized politics goes against political systemization, the key indicator of democracy, and will intensify the concentration of power solely on the president. Even if the president's loyal followers vow to promote the interest of the people, it will be difficult to prevent politics from becoming personalized and centered on the president because of their intrinsic limitations. What will happen if the president's cronies decide to put up a tightly united front and attempt to suppress critical opinions? Such concerns do not seem to be groundless, judging from the recent remarks by an entrenched member of the Donggyo-dong faction and other members of the ruling party. The president's loyal followers have to be banished from politics if the cabinet is to be managed democratically. The benefits of a political cabinet might be fostered if politics is carried out within the system. And if the president's loyal followers are to be in charge, then the cabinet at least has to consist of non-politicians. In an effort to overcome a crisis, relying on the president's faithful followers in the party and presidential secretariat for the short-term could produce some positive results. But in such a case, the cabinet has to maintain its political independence. If not, the state administration will corrode and political personalization will become even more deeply rooted.
Mr. Kim will has to think of ways to run the state wisely to prevent a worsening of the ill effects resulting from his people dominating both political positions and the cabinet. He should try to earn posterity's applause for putting an end to the system dominated by the president and for correcting the mistaken notion of political system centered on the presidency.
The writer is a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University.
by Lim Seong-ho