[OUTLOOK]Politics, weather hard to forecast

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[OUTLOOK]Politics, weather hard to forecast

"What is the most needed ability for a person who wants to be a politician?"

"The ability to predict what would happen the day after, a week later, a month later and a year later."

"What is the second best ability?"

"The ability to give a full account on why the prediction didn't come true."

The above is a revised version of the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's witty remark. We can predict what will happen inside the ruling Millennium Democratic Party by April, the month set for the party's primary to nominate its presidential candidate. President Kim Dae-jung's resignation as the party head in November was a great blow to the governing party. The prospect of the ruling party winning the presidential election without the support of the president is small, and such a pessimistic view of the party's outlook has spread widely inside and outside the party. Some people have even recalled the tension between Lee Hoi-Chang, thenpresential candidate of the ruling party and the former president, Kim Young-sam, which in part attributed to Mr. Lee's defeat in the 1997 presidential election. But I believe that the ruling party's meeting last Monday cleared doubts and paved a new path in Korean political history. I am not interested in how the decision of the party meeting would effect each of the presidential hopefuls. It is better to take unwarranted evaluations lightly.

The ruling party has decided to conduct primary elections, a hybrid of the U.S.-style primary and caucus. A 70,000-member nationwide electoral college made up of delegates, members and registered citizens chosen by lottery in a ratio of 2 to 3 to 5, will be formed to name the presidential candidate. There is room for controversy since the ruling party's definition of a "registered citizen" is somewhat unclear. These citizens should also enlist in the party just prior to the party vote. But the efforts of the ruling party to reflect public opinion are praiseworthy since to date party delegates were no more than the rubber stamp of the party leadership.

Another desirable development also imported is that electoral college voters will rank candidates in preferred order, a measure to prevent backdoor dealing between candidates, which would drive votes to a specific candidate. The ruling party took great pains to prevent the emergence of an imperial president through means of eliminating the party head and banning the president from holding additional positions at the party. In the near future, Koreans may witness the president resorting to persuasion, appeasement and tears to obtain the consent of the assembly members in passing a bill, a scene out of the U.S. political arena. The status of the National Assembly will rise if the custom of naming the speaker of the assembly out of consideration to regional balance or rewards for political contributions is removed. An evaluation committee consisting of party and non-party members, which ranks the candidates of the proportional assembly members, may be useful for shielding exorbitant influence of party leadership.

I wish my predictions would come true, for my forecast has no bearing with the ability of the politicians. The Devil's Dictionary, a cynical book written more than 100 years ago by Ambrose Bierce, points out sarcastically that political revolutions are unforeseen changes in the form of misgovernment. The venture of the Millennium Democratic Party may not be a revolution, but it is considerable progress in terms of party reforms. This step may not be a political revolution following a misgovernment, but I harbor suspicions over why the ruling party took such a long time to push reform measures when its members "easily" reached an agreement within two months after President Kim's resignation.

President Kim retained a lingering desire to lead the party into victory at the coming presidential race and the three Kims - former President Kim Young-sam, President Kim Dae-jung and honorary chairman of the United Liberal Democrats, Kim Jong-pil, exerted exorbitant influence over Korean politics.

The reforms of the ruling party sought to dispatch the influence of the Kims, and the president's will to distance himself from the party affairs is at the core of the reforms. The cooperation of presidential hopefuls is imperative to conduct fair competition by abiding by the rules. Korean politics has experienced numerous failures throughout its history, due to asymmetries between the changed system and the politicians who failed to live up to the changes. The politicians should realign themselves with the new system before they are battered with criticism over the stagnant reforms.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Joseph W. Chung

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