[OUTLOOK]Political reform for unification

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[OUTLOOK]Political reform for unification

There are more than ten candidates who are aspiring to be elected as the leader of the nation in the coming up presidential election. What should their responsibility be? Perhaps the following musings may be of some interest to others.

Since our independence from Japanese domination in 1945, Korean leaders and intellectuals have fought to accomplish four main national goals.

The first was to build an independent government on the peninsula, but the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union did not allow our leaders to collaborate with each other to form such a government, leaving Koreans to live in a divided territory. It was a stroke of good luck in the midst of misfortune that a democratic government was established at least in the South.

The leadership the first president of Korea, Syngman Rhee, played an important role in forming a western-style government. Had it not been for President Rhee's leadership, Korea would have been easily communized.

The second goal was to overcome the deep-rooted poverty we faced. President Park Chung Hee's leadership was the key to the establishment of the foundations for economic development. As a result, the nation has enjoyed a degree of economic prosperity.

The third goal was to implement in a practical way political modernization - a democratic parliamentary system. After the demise of the totalitarian system in the early 1990s, many leaders who claimed they were true democrats lured the people by promising to convert Korea's system into a real democracy.

But the results were to the contrary. The reforms were superficial, and the qualities of the new system were not much different from the old one.

The fourth goal was to unify the two Koreas. President Kim Dae-jung tried to make his sunny dreams come true. He was wrong to do so because the third goal had not been reached before the unification plan was performed in great haste.

We expected that the two presidents who were elected in the 1990s would be true democrats after their fight for freedom during the military dictatorship days. But their mistakes have been obvious to all.

Political funding is a source of corruption. Government offices are being used for political purposes.

Our legislators are more interested in inter-party squabbling than in bettering the lives of the people. A basic democratic tenet, the minority yields to the majority and the majority respects the minority, is ignored in our political system. Political party bosses call all the shots, and the Assembly is violating the laws it made itself.

The people have lost faith in the government, and complain that the political problems are destroying any chance we have for desperately needed economic growth.

It is time for a president who is able to install a full-fledged democratic legislative system to emerge. A functioning democracy is essential to maintaining social peace. The president alone cannot be successful in setting up a true democracy; such a system is impossible without the support, participation and cooperation of the people. But the people are very likely to follow a leader who would sacrifice his own life to preserve the nation's integrity and who is willing to take bold initiatives to bring integrity to our politics.

Korean political reform is somewhat connected with the fourth task, the unification of Korea. Kim Jong-il, the North Korea leader, once mentioned that the South has a strong economy but the North has a stronger spirit. In his view, South Korea was a country of chaos and corruption. He is wrong, however. It would be difficult to convince the North Korean elite that a democratic system, where the media plays a big role in exposing the truth and decisions are made transparently, is much better and safer than a totalitarian political system. North Koreans laud their political system and overlook the democratic system here every time they find any corruption or defect in the South, which slows the pace of unification. The optimal unification policy for Seoul would be to clean up our own domestic political problems before turning to the international stage.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the best person to lead Korea is one who would sacrifice his life to erase the current social and political disgraces and convince not only South Koreans but also the people of the North that democratic system should be adopted on the entire peninsula. Especially since the two Koreas are going head to head to promote their respective ideologies, a leader who could champion the best conditions for unification and a national ideology should be elected.


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The writer is a former prime minister.

by Nam Duck-woo

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