[OUTLOOK]For a representative AssemblyIn spite of many citizens’ hopes, the National Assembly election in April will probably be a peculiar, chaotic one. As the noise from the politicians gets louder, as the allegations associated with illegal political funds grow and as the burden of the economic recession continues to make life difficult for our people, Korean citizens are confused about whom to vote for to have a chance of overcoming these hard times.
The murky situation could aggravate the widespread antipathy against politicians, and we could even face a crisis of democracy as citizens lose confidence in our politicians.
Most of all, making a choice based on the policy direction and policy platform of each party has become a meaningless concept. None of the political parties have defined their positions on major policy issues such as the National Assembly ratification of free trade agreements, selection of the site for a radioactive waste treatment facility, sending of troops to Iraq and relocation of the capital. We cannot just laugh off the murky, pitiful situation.
The more complex the pending issues and challenges become, the less inclined political parties have become to express their intentions and interests clearly. Regional antagonism, which has always been pointed to as a chronic weakness of Korean politics but which continues to be influential in elections, is changing as this next election draws near.
The slugfest between the Millennium Democratic Party and Our Open Party in the Jeolla region is proof of that change. Conflict based on regionalism or policy directions might have faded, but that does not mean that the positions of parties or individual politicians on the reform of our political system is any clearer.
But no matter how unpleasant politicians might be, and no matter how chaotic political parties may be, it is the citizens who are ultimately accountable for protecting the nation. It is an unavoidable duty of the voters to protect the nation and the people by properly executing the right to vote in the elections.
At the historical crossroad where we stand today, it is not an easy task to determine who is the most suitable candidate to be given the legislative power. Especially when the parties cannot offer policy directions as the norm to make the choice, citizens have to rely on the individual character of the candidates when voting for the Assembly begins.
Of course, choice based on the candidate, especially on character judgements, could be a lot harder than supporting a certain party, and the burden the voters must bear could grow even bigger. But if voters seriously consider who could perform the duty of a lawmaker best, the outcome might be unexpectedly bright.
Three years after independence from Japanese colonial rule, citizens voted for the Constitutional Assembly based more on the character of the candidates than on political affiliations. The Constitutional Assembly was more productive than any successor has been, and the members were considered to be more respectable and competent.
But as voters, whom should we prefer and whom should we avoid? The citizens already have created a national consensus on what qualities they expect from an assemblyman. The voters want to exclude anyone who is busy pursuing individual interests and ignores the national interest or the welfare of the citizens. The desirable candidate should be apologetic for the current political chaos, reflecting on his responsibility and considering how to correct systemic evils. Which politicians are trying to cover up their own wrongdoing and lead the consuming battle of criticism, accusing and loathing others? Which ones are armed with ignorance, obstinacy and tempers instead of knowledge and vision? Which are covering up the history of personal betrayal and disguising it as an advanced political maneuver? After reviewing that series of questions and the qualification criteria they imply, most voters have already agreed on a set of selection criteria to apply to the candidates. What we need right now is efforts to expand the national consensus to be carried into the election. It is a role we expect the media and civic organizations to take on.
Some civic groups have already launched a negative campaign to prevent unqualified candidates from winning party nominations to run in the election and from being elected. But they should be more prudent when naming certain candidates. We should never forget that the civic organizations are not necessarily representing the entire electorate.
In a representative democracy, the representatives of the citizens are in the National Assembly, whose members are personally elected by the voters. The role of civic groups and the media should be to provide the citizens with certain standards that might be helpful when making a decision.
If the voters successfully elect suitable, competent people into the National Assembly, the 17th Assembly will offer an opportunity to open a new chapter in the history of representative democracy in the country.
Two years ago, the nation saw Team Korea, that was made up of only the best players in each position, pull off a miraculous performance in soccer’s World Cup. Korean politics needs the best players.
It is about time for the voters to prove that the future of the country can only be secure when we line up our best members in the National Assembly.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo