[FORUM]Evaluation by election has limits

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[FORUM]Evaluation by election has limits

“Politics is a living art.” This is what Kim Dae-jung first said when former President Roh Tae-woo reversed his decision to seek an interim evaluation from the people. Mr. Kim had already asked the president “not to seek a midterm evaluation” as his party’s position. Mr. Kim had judged that if Mr. Roh sought a midterm evaluation, the president was sure to win the vote of confidence. So he tried to block the opportunity for Mr. Roh to win the public trust. In the end, Mr. Roh was faulted as a president who broke his promise of a midterm evaluation, much less gained the confidence of the people.
At present, when President Roh Moo-hyun has proposed a vote of confidence, it remains to be seen whose politics will be more “artistic.” Whether there will be a referendum or by-election is unclear. But, in any case, Mr. Roh’s proposal amounts to calling for a mid-term evaluation of his overall governance. The referendum will be no different from the presidential election. Whether it is to judge his morality or gauge public confidence in his governance according to the election system, the referendum will surely turn out to be an “overall evaluation through election.”
It is confusing whether politics is a living art or a mean trick, but it is clear that an election is the composite of governance. The mixture of all interests, causes, ideologies, tricks, hypocrisy, disguise and luck is the outcome of an election. But an election has limits as the sole comprehensive test of governance. When the votes are divided 51 to 49 percent, the winner of 51 percent can take all, and occasionally the living art can lose to the mean trick.
In this regard, the economy is a more honest composite of governance than elections. In the economy, practical utility is always at work to unveil the disguise of causes and ideologies, and an averaging of 51 and 49 percent is possible without limit. Above all, there is no border to the economy. The whole world always evaluates and responds immediately.
Politics like “a frog in a well” may be possible, but an economy like that cannot survive. There is no boundary between internal and external affairs in the economy. Indeed, the economy is the overall assessment of internal and external administration.
Former presidents were quite concerned about the economy. They also left many words behind. “It seems that I had the military coup mistakenly. [Only after seizing power] I realized our economy was in tatters.” This is what former President Park Chung Hee said with a sigh to his chief of staff early in his presidency. Afterwards, Mr. Park increased national income by industrializing Korea through economic development plans.
“You are the president of the economy.” These words marked the beginning of the Fifth Republic’s economic policies based on stability, opening and autonomy. This is also what former President Chun Doo Hwan said to his presidential senior secretary for economic affairs, Kim Jae-ik. “You don’t need to be concerned about politics.” With these words, he could fundamentally change the basis of the growth-oriented economy of the Third Republic. And he managed to overcome an economic depression with a deficit growth rate that accompanied a poltical crisis, and he succeeded in achieving a surplus economy.
President Kim Dae-jung appealed to the people: “The national coffer is empty. Please help, dear Korean people.” He also had to focus on the economy early in his tenure, as the financial crisis left him no choice. But in the middle of his presidency, he hurriedly declared that he had overcome the foreign exchange crisis and shifted the focus of his governance toward North-South relations. His economic reform was left unfinished in the end.
President Roh Moo-hyun has said no remarkable words about the economy yet. He is reported to have said in an informal meeting, “I should have become the president in the era of $20,000 per-capita income. It is difficult because I became the president in the era of $10,000 per-capita income.”
By winning the confidence vote, he may break through the political situation which led him to say, “I can’t do my job as president.” But the economic situation with a national income of $10,000 is an unavoidable reality. What words will Mr. Roh leave behind about the economy in the future?

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil
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