[VIEWPOINT]Politics blunts competitive edge

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[VIEWPOINT]Politics blunts competitive edge

Korea was ranked 27th among 49 countries in the "World Competitiveness Yearbook," which the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, published in April. Korea's position improved from a shameful 41st on a list of 47 countries in 1997. Singapore was 5th and Hong Kong 9th in the April survey. China was ranked 31st and Thailand 34th.

The weakening competitiveness of the Korean economy results mainly from politics that exacts a high price and the "infiltration of politics into the market." In other words, the high costs of Korean politics are being transferred to the marketplace, bringing about the economic structure of high cost and low efficiency.

Ever since Korea was democratized, the high cost of politics and the transfer of that cost to the market have not improved, in fact, the situation seems to have deteriorated. Just like Korea's former presidents, President Kim Dae-jung has been hit hard by financial scandals involving his family and close aides. Korean presidents have come into office pledging political reform, but later each of them or their relatives were implicated in scandals. Mr. Kim is repeating the errors of his predecessors. This shows that the mutual dependency of politics and business, in other words, the transfer of politics' high costs to the marketplace and the businesses' reliance on political favors, is chronic.

The problem means more than that the profits of companies shrink due to the absorption of political costs. The intertwining of politics and business spawns collusion and illegal deals, replacing fair competition.

The first way to liberate the market from politics and increase national competitiveness is not to reform the market but to reform politics. The high cost of politics should be reduced and the transfer of political costs to the market should end.

The first thing in need of reform is the election system, the root of Korea's democracy. But fair political competition, transparent campaign financing and democratic politics led by parties have not been fully established, even though democratic institutions and formalities were introduced with democratization. Political competition has become extremely fierce, and so elections, which should be the essence of democracy, have been tarnished.

We need to discuss an alternative to the small constituency system, because it causes financial problems, the deepening of regional selfishness, limitations on lawmakers' activities and corruption in the nomination process. We also should discuss the integration of the presidential election, the election for National Assembly members and local government elections and the abolishment of special elections.

Holding many elections does not contribute to the development of democracy if those elections are corrupt. The roles and authority of the Election Management Committee should be expanded for the efficient and fair administration of elections. Election laws should be revised for the transparent management of campaign organizations and financing. A portion of the power of the president should be transferred to the cabinet and the National Assembly. Korea's unstable democracy results to a great extent from the president's monopoly of power, which encourages corruption, antagonism between regions, authoritarianism in political parties and antagonism between the ruling and opposition parties in the National Assembly. We should discuss options to the current presidential system, such as a parliamentary government, vice-president system, a French-style combination of a president and a parliamentary government and the reduction in the president's term in exchange for the right to bid for a second term. We should also promote political neutrality for the prosecutors office, the board of audit and inspection and the national tax office.

Such changes for the recovery of our national competitiveness need a revision of the constitution. Koreans are generally skeptical about changing the constitution, because the past administrations used changes in the constitution to extend their power. But we should not hesitate to revise the constitution if such a step is needed for the further development of Korea's democracy and economy.


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

by Ma In-sub

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