[VIEWPOINT]Korea is failing the 'shift' test

Home > Opinion > Editorials

print dictionary print

[VIEWPOINT]Korea is failing the 'shift' test

"Has there been more than two shifts of political regimes?" writes Samuel P. Huntington in his book "The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century." An analysis depicting the process of democratization around the world since the 1970s, the book often uses Korea as an ex- ample.

As one standard for measuring the establishment of democracy, the author provides "two shifts of political power" to gauge the degree of democratization. If a party or a political group hands over power in an orderly atmosphere and the new regime later transfers power unhindered to the winner of the next election, it can be said, according to Mr. Hungtington's theory, that the process of democratization is consolidated in that country.

What does two shifts of political power suggest? Often, it means the country is faithful to the principles of democracy.

It is not easy to pass Mr. Huntington's test. Take Japan, for example. Since the end of the Second World War, after which Liberal Democrats took over that nation's political regime, there has not been an appropriate form of political shift in Japan. There have been cases where officials from the Socialist Party and newly established parties were elected as prime minister, but those cases have always been made possible with the alliance of the Liberal Democrats or a sister party related to that party.

How about the political situation in Korea? The current government represents the first peaceful political shift in Korean history. Considering that the government led by Kim Young-sam was a merger of three separate parties, it can be said that the Korean government has experienced about one full shift and one half shift so far. At any rate, there has not been more than two shifts in Korea.

It is difficult to claim that the shift of political regimes itself served as a goal in the process of democratization. Seeing the case of Japan, one cannot say for sure that democratization cannot be achieved without the shift of political regimes. But if a country has more than two shifts in political regimes, the situation can be interpreted as clear evidence of democratization.

Viewing the political situation in Korea about two months ahead of the presidential election, one gets a sense that the test by Mr. Huntington is not all that simple. The kind of slander the parties spread against each other is almost horrifying.

New policies and agendas are being brought up centering on the discussion of the presidential candidate, but soon, they are overshadowed by the scandals alleged by the competing parties. One has to wonder why this is happening.

Generally speaking, the policies suggested by the presidential candidates are not very different. Because of the nature of the presidential campaigns, most candidates advocate the common interest of the majority, rather than targeting the interests of any group of individuals. Whether he is from the left or right, a candidate must adjust his policies toward the center. Still, one cannot explain fully our unique election tradition with these general theories. So what is the reason behind the turmoil?

First of all, the fact that the election campaign abounds with slander leads us to believe that there is a high possibility of corruption and illegal activities surrounding the political parties. If there had not been deep suspicions of an illegal exercise of power by the party in power, slanderous remarks would not have been leveled at it.

Second, the intense confrontation over elections suggests that the meaning of the shift in political regimes is distorted.

Third, voters, too, have problems. According to a survey, regionalism is still a factor in support for presidential candidates. One cannot expect a presidential campaign based on the fair judgement of policies if regionalism continues.

The presidential campaign in Korea is more about auditing the political parties and politicians than it is about the competition of policies. To overcome this barrier, we need to establish new political rules.


The writer is a professor of law at Hanyang University.

by Yang Kun

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now