[OUTLOOK]Productive confrontation neededOne of the problems in our election culture is the lack of platforms that outline the candidates' policies. In the days when I was in charge of the JoongAng Ilbo's political desk, I tried to change this by highlighting the policy contention between candidates or parties. My efforts failed. Policy differences were too meager to warrant highlighting. They all made the same attractive promises and whenever one had a popular policy, the others would copy it immediately. Moreover, very few people believed that the politicians would actually keep their promises.
I remembered thinking that there could be no difference in policies because the competitors were two conservative parties. I thought a conservative-progressive contest was desirable.
This month's presidential election, involves a difference in ideology between the two major candidates. A conservative-progressive contention of policies might even be possible.
The contestants have many contrasting opinions on national security, business and the media, but they are not being revealed. Instead, they are badmouthing each other just as candidates did in the past.
The wiretap allegations by the Grand National Party against the Millennium Democratic Party raise an important issue for a healthy democracy, but we cannot avoid criticism that the timing and the method is all too political. It is not the most honest of actions to leak bits and pieces of information to the media according to their needs when the material was acquired months ago.
Nor is the Millennium Democratic Party free of faults. In fact, this party is behaving even more ridiculously in face of the wiretap allegations. Roh Moo-hyun, the party candidate, had probably never ordered or asked for any wiretapping favors from the government intelligence agency. So why is he trying so hard to cover up for the present administration?
The two candidates must meet on the battlefield of ideology and policies. Relations with the United States, including the issue of U.S. forces in Korea, North-South Korean relations surrounding the North's nuclear program, education, the distribution of wealth and the business environment are issues that would change the course of our country depending on who becomes president.
Over the years the presidential candidacies have diverged on core issues. Also, the ideological spectrum of the voters has expanded to a greater extent compared with the past. Issues that were taboo only a short time ago are discussed freely now. Differences exist between people in their 20s and 30s and those in their 50s and 60s. People from the eastern Yeongnam region and Honam region split on some issues, those with high incomes and those with low incomes take different views. Whether an ideology and policy debate surfaces before the election or not, there is no avoiding the internal conflicts in our society.
The problem is that elections end in victory for one side. The real challenge is to overcome these differences following the election.
For contention over policies to take place during the election, we need competition between the conservative side and the progressive side. But such a competition could create social tension that would be difficult to overcome.
The wider the ideological gap between the two sides and the bigger the discrepancy between their opinions, the harder it will be to maintain a working two-party system. In fact, scholars say it is difficult for a two-party system to work without a minimum difference of ideology and a high level of consensus. Does our society possess that high level of ideological consensus that lets us accept one another? Is there only a small difference among our opinions? Answering either question affirmatively is difficult. That is why I fear for our society after the election.
There is a solution. First, competition between the two candidates must be within a basic framework. Our basic framework is the constitution. In other words, conservative or progressive, all must work within the constraints of the Constitution. Second, the middle class must play its role properly. Any society has elements that run off to the extremes of right or left. The middle class brings equilibrium to society.
A sturdy layer of middle class is needed for stable politics. A middle class formed of ordinary people with sensible minds plays the role of unifying the society by transcending election results and differences of generations, incomes and regions. I put my hopes in our wholesome middle class.
* The writer is the strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk