[VIEWPOINT]Why Roh really needs his partyIn the run-up to the last presidential election, candidate Roh Moo-hyun did not emphasized the party name, the Millennium Democratic Party, in his campaign advertisements. The ads only highlighted the candidate, Mr. Roh, and displayed either a small logo of the party or none at all. Critics said the ads were “hidden picture games” for the Millennium Democratic Party logo.
With a sharp decline in popularity in the middle of the campaign, the ruling party started to fall apart. Some members essentially denied Mr. Roh’s potential by demanding that he make a deal with a rival to nominate a single, stronger candidate under two parties. After much meandering, Mr. Roh was elected president, thanks to the support of minor parties in the National Assembly. His victory appeared to have little relation to the Democratic Party. With so little support from his own party, Mr. Roh has kept his distance from the ruling party, and some observers speculate he might leave the party altogether. The Millennium Democratic Party’s actions have been unworthy of a ruling party. Whenever the president is faced with politically challenging decisions, such as dispatching support troops to Iraq or the five-day workweek plan, the ruling party denied him support. It’s not news that the ruling party is producing more noise than being loyal to the president.
Their justification is simple. They want to break away from the evil practice of president’s dominance of the ruling party. While it is true that the ruling party and the government need to be strictly separated, it is undesirable, no matter what, for the president to alienate the ruling party. Above all, if the president does not depend on the ruling party, where else can he find political support?
For one, the president could seek backing from assembly members regardless of their political affiliations. Mr. Roh has mentioned adopting an American-style presidential system, which allows a similar decision-making process. However, such a system can work only when opposition party representatives can give support to the president, regardless of their parties’ stances.
If many opposition lawmakers believe that contradicting Mr. Roh could help them get re-elected, it won’t be easy for Mr. Roh to persuade individual opposition lawmakers to cooperation. In order for the American model to operate properly, not just the president but also the assembly and especially the opposition party has to change. We cannot expect such a grand transition overnight.
Apart from political parties, the president’s last resort is the public. When a president is popular among voters, not even the assembly would dare to challenge his leadership. But the president might be tempted to make shortsighted, populist policy decisions. Groups other than the ruling party helped Mr. Roh win, and the president has been emphasizing participation from outside the existing system. Considering Mr. Roh’s character and history, many are worried.
In Korea, where the president has only one term, there is no chance to hold a leader responsible for his policy decisions because he cannot run again. Instead, the voters can express their opinion by supporting or facing away from the ruling party to mete justice to the president in elections held during his term.
If the president remains distant from the ruling party or denies any attachment to it, such a mechanism cannot work. For a man with solid belief in his political perspective, like Mr. Roh, there needs to be a mechanism that shows the political evaluation of voters on his competency or philosophy.
As Mr. Roh has said, the old idea of a president dominating the ruling party with nominating power and political funds is undesirable, and no longer viable. Political leaders in the United Kingdom, Germany or any other democratic nations did not win the support and loyalty of ruling party representatives in exchange for giving out nominations and funds. What the president needs now is not distance from the ruling party but a showing of a new kind of leadership. In reality, most voters still think Mr. Roh is closely linked with the Millennium Democratic Party. Whether it be the Democratic Party or one with another name, Mr. Roh cannot be free from the political consequences from the ruling party. I wonder how Mr. Roh feels watching verbal and physical brawls within the party.
* The writer is a professor of politics at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Won-taek