[OUTLOOK]Welcome step for political reform

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[OUTLOOK]Welcome step for political reform

The JoongAng Ilbo's recent survey of the ideology of National Assembly legislators and presidential hopefuls strikes a fresh note in Korean political circles, which seem to be focused on upbraiding opponents instead of discussing serious issues in national affairs.

Most political pages of Korean daily newspapers are filled with gossip about the remarks of influential figures and speculation about the underlying meaning of statements issued by politicians every day. The JoongAng Ilbo article was a scientific analysis of facts that can be verified. Its comparison of the thinking of our politicians and the national mood ?the thinking of the public at large ?can serve a useful purpose in helping to upgrade our political dialogue.

The value of the survey is that it has provided Korean voters with the criteria to select the candidates of their choice by laying out the ideological spectrum occupied by high-profile political figures. There has been severe criticism targeted at voters' tendency to throw their votes to natives of the same region the voters are from, but none of that criticism provided specific guidelines on how to evaluate the candidates in any other way. Now, readers of the series can decide which political party would represent their interests the best.

The politicians who were polled cast off their old habit of hiding their dispositions and showed their ideological principles. Representatives Kim Hong-shin, Kim Kyung-cheon and Kim Seong-ho evaluated themselves as being very liberal, and Kim Yong-kap, Park Jae-wook, Shin Hyun-tae, Lee Bang-ho, Park Se-hwan, Kim Jin-jae, Shin Young-kyun, Chung Jin-suk and Ahn Dae-ryun thought of themselves as being very conservative.

In the near future, a transparent political system may begin to replace the current system, in which political deals are made behind closed doors. We need ?and maybe will soon have ?a system where candidates bid for votes on the basis of their ideology. The survey showed that there are differences between the ruling and opposition parties not only in terms of their regional footholds but also in their ideologies and policy lines. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party was relatively more liberal than the main opposition Grand National Party, which can be called "moderate-conservative," and the United Liberal Democrats are the most conservative.

The three parties showed striking differences on support for North Korea and abolition of the National Security Act. The difference between the three parties may provide an opportunity to change the current system, which is based on the charisma of political leaders, to a contest of ideology and policies.

The survey singled out controversial policies and those that enjoyed support across the ideological spectrum. The legislators showed sharply different opinions on the death penalty, our system of naming heads of families and aid to Pyeongyang, but disparities on environmental issues and welfare were small by comparison.

Politicians should live up to the old saying that politics is the art of the possible, and make efforts to narrow their differences on controversial issues. They also have some guidance now, better knowing the public mood on a wide range of issues. Surveys of this type should be conducted periodically and systematically. Political pluralism is based on the assumption that among members of a community, there exist conflicting viewpoints.

Traditionally, many Koreans believed that hiding differences of opinion from the public is meritorious. But this way of thinking does not solve the problems; it could make them worse. Politicians should step up and work to bridge the gaps.

Korean politicians tend to hide their political philosophies and appear noncommittal. Legislators leave no tracks showing how they voted on issues. This is a cowardly act, a shirking of political responsibility. If our nation is in trouble because legislators drag their feet on acting on pending legislation, the people cannot find out who is responsible for the delay; there are no official records.

Legislators should seize the opportunity this series has given them and act according to their convictions and document their actions to enhance the transparency of Korean politics.


The writer is a professor of political science at Hallym University.

by Kim Yong-ho

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