[VIEWPOINT]President Kim's Decision Will Hurt Party

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[VIEWPOINT]President Kim's Decision Will Hurt Party

Genuine intention and cordiality can cause unexpected side effects. Such cases can often be noticed in everyday life, but they are more likely seen in complicated and interwoven political relations. Politicians should take action with good intentions and make an effort to wind up with a desirable result. That's a dilemma that politicians typically face. President Kim Dae-jung, who resigned as his party's president but pledged to serve the party as a commoner, is meeting this dilemma head-on.

On one hand, Mr. Kim's decision came mostly from his honest intentions, I believe. Of course, some observers might see a meticulously calculated hidden strategy that was intended to avoid difficult reality incurred by a popularity drop, infighting among presidential hopefuls of the party, the lame duck phenomenon and so on. But we cannot question his explanation that he made a decision to devote himself only to national management as head of the state, and to let the Millennium Democratic Party fend for itself. If there is no evidence to prove that his decision lacks pure intention, it is not proper to react to his decision sarcastically. In fact, politically-neutral scholars, journalists, civic groups and opposition parties had demanded President Kim resign from the ruling party's presidency as a move to give him a politically neutral position to manage the state affairs and the next presidential election, scheduled for December 2002.

On the other hand, I am afraid that his cordial decision may bring about two unexpected side effects. First, when the nonpartisan president devotes himself only to managing affairs of the state, ruling and opposition assemblymen. who are also people's representatives, may be more marginalized from the state's management. President Kim may not try to broaden consultation channels with the Assembly, by taking into consideration the difference between his nonpartisan position and parties' partisan behavior. If so, hegemony to manage state affairs will tilt to the administration. There used to be regular consultation meetings between the ruling party and the administration to assist policy-making, at least formally. But from now on the administration may exclusively control most of the policy-making tasks. It is undesirable for democracy if the administration is more empowered in the state management because official connections between the administration and the party that President Kim belongs to are weakened.

If people think that the president manages the state affairs and assemblymen are just engaged in a power game, people's mistrust in parliamentary democracy will be deepened. Even though it was not intended, the result will be just as dangerous. In the worst case scenario, if the nonpartisan president, obsessed with his conviction to pass a certain bill for the sake of the nation, instigates people to press the National Assembly, the foundation of representative democracy will be fundamentally undermined.

The second side effect President's Kim decision may cause is that the Millennium Democratic Party may have difficulty pushing ahead with the institutionalization of a party system. A political party can be institutionalized by taking root in the people, accepting various demands and regulating conflicting interests through a frame of an established system. With the absence of the president, the Millennium Democratic Party will change its appearance as politicians realign behind a handful of presidential hopefuls, each of whom tries to maximize his influence. That is a change from the top - for the sake of power. That is not a real change ignited by the bottom or triggered by political convictions. With most of the ordinary people alienated, if the party changes according to political maneuvers of just a few would-be presidential candidates, the party cannot be revamped to fend for itself. The party will rather go away from the institutionalization, and the party's charter, its platform and even its identity will disappear.

I hope the fears of side effects of a neutral president will turn out to be unfounded. I hope the prediction that President Kim's cordial decision will result in unwanted side effects will not come true. In order to realize this hope, the president should see the National Assembly as his partner while he maintains nonpartisanship on political affairs. The people and the party members should hold the presidential hopefuls in check, so as not to ruin the party. But both of those hopes may be hard to realize. That's what worries me.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University.

by Lim Seong-ho

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