[VIEWPOINT]Competing styles of governmentAs President Roh Moo-hyun declared that he would adopt an American-style presidential system in handling state affairs, a debate over the American and French styles is heating up. We cannot say which of the two systems is better; both are based on different constitutional principles and require different conditions for successful operation.
The French-style presidential system, where the president and prime minister share power, is based on party politics. France allows a bill to be voted on without being reviewed in detail when requested by the administration, which is completely incomprehensible from the perspective of the American idea of checks and balances.
The National Assembly’s legislative power is often undermined, and the president’s personnel appointment and administrative rights are not overseen by the other branches of government as they are in the United States.
If the ruling party has a majority of seats in the assembly, the president has unchallenged power. In contrast, a president with a small ruling-party representation in the assembly would have to leave the formation of the cabinet and many administrative decisions to the majority party.
The American model, which stemmed from a distrustful attitude toward political parties and leaders, does not give too much power to either the president or the majority party. The American president and Congress check each other, and most of the president’s appointment decisions require approval from Congress.
Also, the political parties virtually open their right to nominate candidates for public positions to the voters. That is why it is hard for a political party to serve as a basis for leadership in America.
We cannot compare the two systems and say which is more desirable. At the moment, many citizens have become attracted to the American presidential model, which does not allow too much power to parties and politicians.
Over the last five decades, they have grown tired of the abuse of power by imperialistic presidents and untrustworthy politicians. Expanding the National Assembly hearings for nominees to public posts and adopting a primary system may demonstrate that the Korean political system is already tilting towards an American-style presidency.
Not only does the American presidential system divide power between the president and Congress, but it also separates the government from the ruling party.
In order for the American model to fit into the Korean political climate and prevent unwanted side effects such as a paralyzed state management, we need the president to have a strategic leadership that can pull the nation together during the transition period based on communication and persuasion.
Just as President Jimmy Carter suffered from an uncomfortable relationship with Congress despite the ruling party having a majority there, a president under the American presidential system does not automatically have a solid support base in the legislature.
The president needs to constantly check on how legislators feel towards each bill and make an effort to persuade them. That is why the White House consults with both the ruling and opposition parties before officially introducing any legislative bill or nominating a candidate, and does its best to take the politicians’ opinions into account.
The president’s policy decision counts most. If the president makes strategic policy decisions that are welcomed by the public, he will have an easier time in handling state affairs. Conversely, if the president makes decisions that the citizens do not accept, his power will inevitably diminish.
When President Bill Clinton had to begin his term with Congress dominated by the Republicans, he was clever enough to conduct weekly opinion polls on each major policy issue and adjust his position accordingly.
Even though President Ronald Reagan’s party was in the minority in Congress, he used his popularity to push policy in his chosen direction. Public support is very important for politicians. Legislators, who are sensitive about the next election, are not likely to publicly denounce a popular president.
In contrast, a president with a low approval rating is easy prey for attacks by both the ruling and opposition parties. Politicians wish to attract votes by opposing an unpopular president.
In order to follow the American model, which acknowledges the president’s authority regardless of the composition of the legislature, we need to consider how we can include the principle of checks and balances in the system. More public candidates should go through National Assembly hearings, and the Assembly should reinforce its policy decision-making process. Otherwise, people will continue to refer to the French system, where legislative election results are regarded as an approval rating for the president and can change the president’s authority.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyunghee University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Min-jeon