[INSIGHT]No more experimental govermentLooking back, the first four months of the Roh Moo-hyun administration have had the feeling of an “experimental government.” Since its inauguration, the government has tried many political experiments. It has tried an anti-American line and it has sent out pro-labor signals. The “386,” the term referring to the generation born in the 1960s and attending college in the 1980s, and the “code” are some of the elements in society that the government is experimenting with.
We all know the results of these experiments. After shaking up U.S.-Korea relations, the government hurriedly set about to restore them but there are still elements of uncertainty left. The government mulled over law and compromised its stance favoring labor unions only to find itself under severe criticism from a majority of the public. The government’s reliance on the 386 generation and “the code” to fill its posts also brought a laxity of official discipline in the Blue House and confusion in the team network within the government.
Such failures in governance have brought a sign of crisis to the government. Recently, Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan openly expressed his “fundamental doubts whether President Roh has the ability to overcome this difficult situation.” Kang Won-young, a prominent Protestant pastor, also warned, “President Roh must change at least before September,” adding that if the current pattern continued, his party would lose next year’s general elections. Nam Duck-woo, a former prime minister, also evaluated the present economic situation as a crisis caused by “non-economic factors” and criticized that the government considered the confusion and disorder as proof of post-authoritarianism.
The public censure stems from more than a complaint of failed government policies. It is more serious than that, a distrust of the ability and intentions of the authorities. The dangerous level of public distrust in the government, the arbitrary portrayal of what is “true” according to the personal beliefs of the president and his tendency to adhere to his select group of aides, and the amateurism that some of the government officials have shown are all taken to be the fundamental problems of this government.
Even the advice given to the president seems more like pleas to a stubborn child: speak convincingly, read even the newspapers you don’t like and keep your promises. These are hardly the messages that the president of a country of Korea’s stature should be receiving.
There is no way the government will exercise power or influence this way. Interest groups attack and even threaten the president these days. Foreigners in our country publicly criticize our government’s economic-labor policies. When a usually reticent official of the Blue House office proposed a “Netherlands-style” labor-management relationship, European corporate executives rejected the idea outright the next day, saying it was not appropriate for the Korean situation. In his letter to President Roh, a representative of Japanese executives in Korea advised him to change the country’s image. We are grateful for this advice. Yet, it is a somewhat bitter feeling to think that these foreigners must think our government helpless and pathetic to give such advice. Now, even the foreigners are trying to teach our president.
We cannot let this situation continue. The government should now put a stop to all its failed experiments. The government of a country cannot be the object of experiments or the studying grounds of a particular group in the government or public sector. Now the government must shift from an “experimental government” to a “normal government.” The meaning of “normal” might not be clear all the time but it is what our community agrees it to be and what the majority of our people believe it to be. The rule of law, representative democracy, respect for public opinion, dignity and reliability are some of the standards that comprise the core of what is considered a normal government.
No more flippancy, frivolity, peculiarities and prejudices in the government, please. For example, an experimental government chooses its men and women according to whether they are part of the same “code,” a normal government, according to their abilities. The rough talk of the president might be an experiment of post-authoritarianism but the president of a normal government would use polite language. In a normal government, a pro-labor stance might be a policy objective but it cannot be above the rule by law and the neutrality of the government.
Counting the two months as president-elect, President Roh has been in office over six months. By now, he must be aware of the characteristics, people and problems of the government. It is also time the Roh government returned to a “normal government” based on these experiences.
A lot of people see September as the deadline for the Roh administration to salvage itself. As Pastor Kang warned, September could be the last chance for the Roh Moo-hyun government to change itself and avoid the fate of a lame duck. Opposition party floor leader Hong Sa-duk also talked about giving the government until September to improve its act before his party launches a “major movement.” It also seems likely that the disgruntled government party members who are rumored to bolt soon and form a new party will do so in September. With all these likely developments in September, the Roh government had better start changing also.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok