[OUTLOOK]It’s not the same old Assembly

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[OUTLOOK]It’s not the same old Assembly

I am currently on an official visit to China at the invitation of Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Last Thursday, I had a meeting with President Hu Jintao and discussed Pyeongyang’s nuclear ambitions and the six-nation talks.
Every time I visit China, the country is completely different. I was impressed, and perhaps felt a bit threatened, by the vitality and energy of the ever-changing neighborhood giant.
During the visit, I got an urgent message from Seoul. The National Assembly had rejected President Roh Moo-hyun’s choice of head of the Board of Audit and Inspection. As I was briefed, I grew frustrated. At this deciding moment of national fate, and especially when the government and the people of our neighbor have united to march forward to a grand future, I was deeply disappointed to hear about the divisions of the nation and the ongoing internal feuds.
Personally, I don’t think implementing and responding to the so-called “four-party system” should be so complex. All we need is the president’s open-minded and respectful attitude toward the National Assembly and his willingness to have serious dialogue. There might be matters on which the opinions of the president and the Assembly are so divergent that talks cannot close the gap. But there are not many issues that cannot be solved by talks, and even if dialogue cannot completely eradicate the differences, it would certainly alleviate the tensions.
During Mr. Roh’s days as president-elect, I had explained the relationship between the president and the Assembly to him. After his inauguration, I did not miss an opportunity to reiterate the role of the Assembly. The National Assembly had once found Ko Young-koo, the president’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Service, unfit for the position in hearings.
Mr. Roh ignored the judgment of the Assembly and installed Mr. Ko to lead the spy agency. The Constitution has given the president the power to appoint the chief of the National Intelligence Service, and the National Assembly’s decision had no legally binding force. Nevertheless, Mr. Roh should have sincerely explained to the lawmakers why he stood by his choice and should have asked for understanding before he went ahead to appoint the controversial man whom the lawmakers unanimously found inappropriate.
If Mr. Roh had met with leaders of the Assembly and said he had learned the Assembly’s opinion on Mr. Ko, but he really needed him for the position, the political climate today would have been much different. If only Mr. Roh had asked for the understanding of the Assembly, we could have prevented this hostile situation filled with distrust and confrontation.
Communication with the Assembly is not the last resort when a small ruling party is overwhelmed by a giant opposition party. Dialogue is the foundation of representative democracy. The president needs to run national affairs based on the people’s opinion, and the people’s opinion is represented by the National Assembly. It is only natural that the president consult with the National Assembly on state affairs.
How could the chief executive just throw a nominee to the National Assembly, not making efforts to persuade the lawmakers, and then denounce the Assembly for disagreeing with him?
When the National Assembly was considered a handmaid of autocratic administrations, it might have been possible. But the times have changed. The National Assembly is not the same old slave, and the citizens are not the mute subjects who were afraid of authoritarian rule. Only the Blue House seems to behave as if we were still living in the despotic era.
Each American president has spent most of his time and energy persuading the Congress. For every crucial vote, the president would meet with congressional leaders and even make personal phone calls to senators and representatives to persuade them.
The Blue House has said that it would pursue an American-style presidency, but it is doubtful if the Blue House is willing to meet leaders of the Assembly and try to persuade them. I am not sure if the president has provided enough explanation and justification as to why his nominee was the most suitable man to head the Board of Audit and Inspection.
The ruling party needs to look back and see if it has done well in representing the president in the Assembly.
Having the power to sway the decision of the assembly, the majority party needs to practice prudence and patience and have a positive attitude in communicating with the president and the ruling party. When dialogue and negotiation fail, we need to remember that the Assembly is based on the principle of a decision by the majority.
I would like to suggest that Mr. Roh face the entire Assembly, regardless of party affiliation. If he forgets about political interests or intentions and asks for cooperation only with sincere patriotism in mind, the entanglement might be resolved much more easily.
The position of president not only comes with enormous power at his disposal but also with great responsibilities. Only when he fulfills the responsibilities expected of him can Mr. Roh exercise all his authority.
I hope the rejection of the chief auditor will be a chance to rejuvenate the relationship between the Assembly and the Blue House.

* The writer is the speaker of the National Assembly. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Kwan-yong
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