[OUTLOOK]Good riddance to bad politics

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[OUTLOOK]Good riddance to bad politics

The yearning for reform and change drove the people to choose Roh Moo-hyun as their next president. The task of the new government will be to deliver on that promise of re-form, but reforms come with risks. As we see from past admi-nistrations, the heavier the burden of reform they felt, the more they erred in making the people the objects of reform instead of the owners of reform. That attitude often appeared in the form of hasty reforms that, after years of trial and error, were eroded away by fatigue and cynicism. In order for the administration of Mr. Roh to fix the irrationalities of our society with popular support, a well-plan-ned strategy of reform is needed.

First of all, it must be hammered home that the people are the masters of reform efforts. Mr. Roh must concentrate on allowing the will of the people to be reflected in reforms instead of swinging a sword himself. Past governments all championed reform only to become estranged from the people because the president became obsessed with the idea that he must lead the charge for reform. Reforms executed by a minority of bureaucrats or created by scholars not only will fail to obtain popular support, they will cause instability in our political system. As an example, our nation's tax laws have been amended over 100 times in our country's 54-year history.

In addition, some strategic considerations must be used in deciding the priorities in the reform program. Reforms should not start off by favoring the groups that supported Mr. Roh. They should start with what the majority of the people want. The Clinton administration's reforms included a more pro-abortion stance and allowing homosexuals to join the military. By starting off with such issues that sharply divided the nation, Mr. Clinton soon found that the majority of the Ame-rican people had turned their backs on him and he lost the support he needed for his biggest reform program, health insurance policy. President Clinton's misjudgment also brought a crushing defeat to the Democrats in the midterm elections two years after he took office. Reforms should start in the one field ?politics ?that all people except for politicians agree must be reformed. Politi-cal reform is an important preparatory step for the next set of reforms because it is predicated on a sentiment that is widely shared in our society. The timing for such reforms is also fortunate in that not many National Assembly members would be rash enough to oppose such a move in an open vote with the 2004 National Assembly elections just around the corner. The most important of all political reforms is breaking free from the cartel-like politics of the "three Kims," as the politics of the 1990s led by Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil is called. The political system must encourage fair competition and voluntary participation of the people. The politics of the three Kims relied on regionalism and blocked fair competition and citizen participation under the pretense of banishing high-cost political campaigns. That is how the three Kims maintained their oligopolistic power.

They tried to cover the people's eyes by introducing an unprecedented election law that banned civic groups from participating in the election process. The political funds law they enacted allowed them to divide the rich government funding for political parties among themselves, and thus made it impossible for any small parties to compete on a level field. The political party law was enacted to allow political appointments to be made behind closed doors and to put those appointments up for sale. The National Assembly law also handed the three Kims de facto veto rights under the pretense of checking the arbitrariness of the National Assembly. If the three Kims agreed, dozens of bills could be passed in one day. If even one of the three Kims disagreed, the National Assembly could not even assemble a quorum. The National Assembly became the private property of the three Kims. The three Kims were above the law, and politics abided by the wishes of the three Kims, not the words of the law. Disregard for law became a social phenomenon.

Roh Moo-hyun's victory shows that the cartel-like politics of the three Kims that had oppressed Korean politics for so long is finally crumbling. To prevent the wheels of history from turning backward, competition and participation by ordinary Koreans must be embedded in the system. Furthermore, we need reforms led by the political system and not by one man's charisma if Mr. Roh is not to follow in the footsteps of the three Kims.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyung Hee University.

by Kim Meen-geon

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