[NOTEBOOK]Changes afoot for political partiesWhy does Korean politics remain an object of perpetual criticism even after the end of military dictatorship and the two Kims’ leadership? This is probably because it cannot break old practices such as illegal campaign funding, power-related corruption, and endless confrontation and conflict between the ruling and opposition parties. But this assessment of the political community is a little harsh. A more exact assessment would be that while these problems still persist, they have at least been reduced in terms of size and intensity.
Campaign funds were estimated to exceed 1 trillion won when Roh Tae-woo and the three Kims ran in the presidential election in 1987, but their size is decreasing as time passes. We will be able to get the exact figure when the prosecution’s investigation into campaign financing comes to an end, but the general estimate of politicians is that both the ruling and opposition parties might have spent not more than 100 billion won each in last year’s presidential election.
The tactics involved in power-related corruption may have become dirtier, but the scale of corruption has certainly been reduced. Unlike former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, President Roh Moo-hyun is not likely to suffer from corruption scandals by his sons or close aides at the end of his tenure. This is not because Mr. Roh has a strong anti-corruption will or because his close aides are unusually clean. But the present administration’s hostile attitude toward major newspapers has brought an unexpected effect. Although “exhausting and destructive relations of tension,” rather than “healthy relations of tension,” have been formed between the administration and the media now, this has worked to sharpen the watchful eyes of the media over the president’s close aides and relatives since he took office.
Most remarkable is the change in party leadership. Now nobody can lead the party as he pleases, nor can he have dozens of representatives as his lineage any longer. The era has now passed when the Reunification Democratic Party vanished after Kim Young-sam decided to merge it with two other parties and when the National Congress for New Politics was suddenly created under the aegis of Kim Dae-jung. In next year’s legislative election, Choe Byung-yul, head of the Grand National Party; Park Sang-cheon, head of the Millennium Democratic Party; and Kim One-ki, co-chairman of the interim leadership of Our Open Party, can never guarantee the election of candidates. The wall of regional antagonism still exists, but at least claiming to be from the Gyeongsang or Jeolla provinces will not ensure that a particular party will win the majority of seats there.
Therefore, it will not be easy to decide a party platform on a sensitive issue. Grand National Party chief Choe and floor leader Hong Sa-duk disagree over the issues of the electoral district system and constitutional revision. And former chief Suh Chung-won and heavyweight representatives protested against the the leadership’s political reform proposal, saying, “There was no procedure to collect party opinions.” The party’s young representatives oppose its policy of advocating an independent counsel’s investigation into campaign funding, saying, “The people want to wait and see the result of the prosecution’s investigation.”
In the Millennium Democratic Party, many representatives also object to the party leadership’s policy of cooperating on the independent counsel issue, asking, “What is the purpose of cooperating with the Grand National Party?” In the Our Open Party, its floor leader, Kim Keun-tae, and the co-chairman of the interim leadership, Kim One-ki, often take different stances. Representatives are divided on the issue of a second troop deployment to Iraq. The present leadership of all three parties is beset by powerful internal challenges.
Those who are accustomed to the old practices of the parties may feel impatient with the difficulty of accepting various opinions, wondering “whether there is a ruling party or not,” or saying, “The opposition party never behaves like an opposition party.” But this phenomenon may not necessarily be due to the leadership’s incapability. This can be interpreted as the process of transition to a ruling party that supports the administration critically and to an opposition party that contends for victory based on policy, not on political struggle.
It will be wise of both politicians and the people to adjust to this state of the parties for the time being. The age calls for leadership and political behavior different from those of the two Kims.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo