[VIEWPOINT]Closing last door on boss politics

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[VIEWPOINT]Closing last door on boss politics

Waving a Korean national flag that had been buried beneath a bureau right after liberation from Japanese colonial rule did not mean sovereignty and independence were obtained immediately.

In the same way, a democratic government did not emerge right after the constitution was amended to allow direct presidential elections in 1987.

Government by military regimes ended five years after direct presidential elections were implemented. And an additional five years passed before peaceful transfer of power from the ruling party to the opposition occurred.

Yet, almost 10 years after the demise of the last military government and the emergence of civilian governments, there is little evidence and assurance that a truly democratic form of government has taken root.

Therefore, nothing can be done to stop the spread of nostalgia that praises and rationalizes the past military regimes.

During the last 15 years what have politics, politicians and the public, which is the foundation of politics, done?

Was such a long length of time necessary to throw off the past order and adjust to the new democracy? That the country has not yet achieved a proper democratic government is unfortunate, to say the least.

But recollecting the military era, during which politics was based on the preference of the person in power, there is no reason to be impatient or daunted. Politicians, the public, the press and even companies that grew accustomed to the way things were done must expend time and effort to shake the shackles of obsolete customs and political habits. Furthermore, there are problems that only time can untangle.

The most typical of such problems is a political system run under a single boss-like leadership.

Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, who led the democracy movement, had to rely on the absolute image of a "boss" politician to acquire the charisma and leadership that were needed to accomplish the goals of ending prolonged military dictatorship.

However, the "boss" political system, which concentrates political power and causes the majority of politicians to rely on the boss for their future, obviously does not fit democracy.

Therefore, after the military regime gave way to rule by the people, ushered in by presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, the charismatic appeal of boss leadership should have changed. To tackle other tasks essential to building a democratic political system, the Kims should have abandoned their boss politics of the past.

However, the behavior by the majority of the people, the press and the political community indicated that they wanted the continuation of the boss system. The public, press and political community wanted both Kims to remain as the center of pending issues in politics. As was demanded, both Kims took the political center stage and they even expected the opposition party to introduce new bosses.

The boss was always meant to be the center of the political culture in Korea. Under such circumstances, political democracy is only possible when the existence of a boss is fundamentally denied. Especially, the democratization of political parties and active implementation of parliamentary democracy had to be delayed. Old political practices, which create problems even today, such as regional politics, nontransparent campaign funding, vicissitudes in aligning political parties and a distorted central party structure, are problems stemming from a boss political culture.

However, in the spring of 2002, a crack started to appear in the obsolete political system. Needless to say the crack resulted from the dismantling of the boss political system, with the Kim Dae-jung administration coming to an end, a natural fate that befell Kim Young-sam as well.

But the heat on the movement of change in the political arena today is different from that of the past. The political community itself has acknowledged that reform is necessary.

Politics today is longing for reform that will make it move much closer to democratic principles. Therefore, the possibilities and hopes of democracy are being seen more clearly.

The changes in electing the presidential candidate, the abandonment of the party leadership's right of appointing party's candidates to National Assembly seats and honest and open debate on political funding are all evidence of a certain change as well as a new challenge.

It will not be long before we see a truly mature democracy rooting in our soil. If we end the political wandering that was typical of Korea during the last 50 years, we could shorten the time for our arrival at a truly democratic government.


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The writer is a representative of Korean Enterprise Institute.

by Lee Yoon-jae

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