[OUTLOOK]A few suggestions on reforms

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[OUTLOOK]A few suggestions on reforms

Roh Moo-hyun of the Millennium Democratic Party won the 2002 presidential election despite a last-minute withdrawal of support by his ally Chung Mong-joon, the leader of National Alliance 21. Several elements worked to Mr. Roh's benefit in this presidential race, but in the end it all came down to the voters wanting to break away clean from old politics, as Mr. Roh promised, rather than holding the current government accountable for corruption, as the Grand National Party tried to persuade voters to do.

The most important task at hand for the new president is doing away with the past. The biggest reason former President Kim Young-sam and President Kim Dae-jung failed in their political reforms was that they did not attempt to reform themselves in the ways they demanded of others. Self-reform is what is needed above all and such self-reform is needed both in saying good-bye to old faces and saying hello to a new system of reforms.

As president, Mr. Roh will face the Herculean task of cleaning out the undesirable remnants of the Kim Dae-jung administration: those who meddled wrongfully in personnel affairs, those found to have been involved in corruption allegations and those responsible for the administrative debacles. This is what he promised the people in his campaign.

I met several political analysts before the election who showed a favorable attitude toward Mr. Roh yet hesitated to cast their vote for him, dreading the possibility of the same corrupt-ridden figures at the center of politics (which has made the Kim Dae-jung administration resemble a mafia family) snuggling cozily back into their old posts.

Mr. Roh will also need reforms in the government structure to prevent the system from slipping back to that of an imperialistic presidency. Changes Mr. Roh needs to bring to the system include more substantive authority for the prime minister and efforts to reduce the power of the presidential office. The ultimate challenge for Mr. Roh is to overcome the factionalism and regionalism that pervade present-day Korean politics.

Considering the numerous problems plaguing the Millennium Democratic Party, it seems like a sensible idea for Mr. Roh to create a new unified party before the inauguration, as he promised to do. "If Roh Moo-hyun becomes president, then the Millennium Democratic Party becomes the Roh Moo-hyun Party," Mr. Roh once proclaimed in a campaign speech. Let's hope he was just saying that for the campaign. The temptation of turning one's political party into a personality party has snared too many Korean leaders before.

Mr. Roh and other leaders of the party should give up in advance the urge to handpick their package of candidates for the 2004 National Assembly elections. Furthermore, Mr. Roh's new party should not engage in the unprincipled practice of "stealing" opposition party members to fatten their Assembly seats and escape their minority position, as the Millennium Democratic Party did under Kim Dae-jung. A party is never in the minority if it wins the backing of the public to deal with the majority party. And the way to win the public is by keeping principles.

A fair and principled personnel policy is fundamental for overcoming regionalism. Difficult as it may be, Mr. Roh must learn to apply drastic measures of reform to old politics while guarding himself against the temptation of authoritarianism and disrespect for democratic procedures.

We are still yearning for democratic reform despite the disappointments of the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations. Despite the achievement of electing three civilian presidents, democratic reform in our society is still in its baby steps. More than 200 political prisoners were sentenced to prison during the administration of Kim Dae-jung, who was the "human rights president." The National Security Act is on the books intact, despite the fact that it no longer reflects reality. Neo-liberalism was the name of the reform the first two civilian presidents sought, and democratic reform was cast aside in the harried pursuit of economic efficiency.

President-elect Roh should not forget his younger days as a human rights lawyer and propose the kind of reforms that are needed to create politics without political prisoners and to heal the wounds of a society becoming deeply polarized by the side effects of the neo-liberal policies of the Kim Dae-jung administration.

Finally, Mr. Roh should never forget that one of the reasons he was able to ride his popular appeal into the Blue House was that he was the one deemed as most principled among the the nation's politicians. Yet it is true that even Mr. Roh showed signs of falling back to the tricks of old politics when he visited former President Kim Young-sam to ask him to pick a candidate to run for mayor of Busan and then changed his story about the request.

Now that the election is over, Mr. Roh should return to his younger and more innocent days as a politician who kept his word and principles. If one more thing is to be added, it is that Mr. Roh needs to show more prudence and stability in his style. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Roh found himself in hot water several times for his relentless talk and often downright reckless language. As the leader of this nation, he can no longer afford to make so many mistakes. More caution and composure is recommended for his style and language. Mr. Roh will make an even better president if he remains principled in his actions and learns to be gentler in his style.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Sogang University.

by Sonn Ho-chul

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