[OUTLOOK]A minister as partner not targetWith the political sector focusing on Thursday's elections, the isolation of the Kim administration is growing worse. The prime minister post has been vacant since last week, when the National Assembly voted not to confirm Chang Sang's nomination. There seems to be very little apprehension over the vacancy of a post that contains very little power.
On the other hand, the government has repeatedly tried to blame partisanism in the National Assembly for the failure to get the first woman nominee for prime minister confirmed. The vacancy of the prime minister's seat, however, is a serious obstruction to our government and should not be taken lightly nor used in partisan wrangling.
The fact that the prime minister's seat has been empty for so long reminds us once more of the serious problem that our society has faced since democratization.
Our political system has both a president and a prime minister and is different from most of the other presidential systems in the world. The tortuous history of our democracy is the reason for this difference.
Under authoritarian presidents, starting with Park Chung Hee, the president had all the power in his hands and was truly an "imperialistic president." However, the president and his aides wanted to disperse the responsibility that followed such omnipotent powers. This is how the so-called "bulletproof prime minister" was born. The presidents of those authoritarian times needed a prime minister who would take all the blame for the failures of their administration.
A considerable number of highly esteemed men and leading figures in our society were forced to take the blame for the sins of the president.
The content of last week's confirmation hearing of Ms. Chang and the indifference that followed on the vacancy of the prime minister's seat clearly show us that we have yet to slough off our prejudice of the prime minister as a bulletproof proxy.
The questions at the confirmation hearing were firmly focused on the personal ethics of Ms. Chang rather than on her administrative skills. This is clear evidence that even in this age of democracy, the National Assembly was holding a hearing to confirm a "scapegoat prime minister" as in the authoritarian days.
Does this mean that since we have already bid farewell to the totalitarian regimes, we have come to a point where we should abolish the prime minister system to say good-bye to the puppet prime ministers? A better answer would be to add substance to the prime minister's seat rather than abolishing it.
The days of the totalitarian governments are gone but the power that our president holds is still too mighty and vast. The term "imperialistic president" seems still valid in our society. It is practically impossible for an individual to hold such wide power and still exercise it in strictly democratic ways and procedures.
The imperialistic presidents of our past had buried themselves in omnipotent powers and failed in establishing the priorities of their administration, leading to one colorless government after another. Even after the wave of the democratization movement swept through our society, our presidents remained as imperialistic leaders overloaded with sweeping powers.
In order for presidents to set their priorities clearly and to achieve definite progress on a few select important issues, the distribution of power and duty must be actualized between the president and the prime minister. For example, the roles can be distributed in such a way that the president might aspire to a small number of concentrated objectives, such as education or economic reforms, with the prime minister taking care of the everyday affairs of the state.
In other words, while the prime minister under the authoritarian regimes shared only the responsibility and not the power with the president, the prime minister in this age of democracy should share both the power and the responsibility with the president.
Thus, the prime minister can contribute to a successful administration. And, of course, the appearance of such a prime minister is perfectly possible within the boundaries of the present constitution.
After Thursday, the political circles of our society will probably be busy calculating a new strategy for the presidential election, depending on the results of the by-elections.
The kind of preparation that the people truly want from the parties, however, is an atmosphere of calm discussion over each one of the tasks that will be facing the next administration, including the issue of strengthening the prime minister's powers.
The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University.
by Chang Hoon