[CULTURAL DIMENSIONS]Best-case to chaos, and chorusLike the unfolding of a Greek tragedy, an inevitable misfortune takes the form of an impeachment. From his debut as an incisive inquisitor of Chun Doo Hwan in 1988, Roh Moo-hyun has starred as the hero of an unfinished tragedy over his battles with “the establishment.” Impeachment is the latest episode in the Roh Moo-hyun tragedy and the candlelight vigils are the latest choral comment on the events of the episode.
President Roh’s fate appears to be in the hands of the Constitutional Court, but the court is one of many characters in the greater tragedy. Whatever the court decides, the tragedy will continue until a resolution is reached. The type of resolution is most important to future generations. A resolution that brings misery to the characters could harm the national interest greatly, but a resolution that satisfies most people could strengthen democratic traditions. The critical question that the Constitutional Court faces is how to prevent the current episode in the Roh Moo-hyun tragedy from becoming a national tragedy. Four scenarios come to mind.
The best-case scenario: The Constitutional Court rejects the impeachment bill before the National Assembly elections in April. That would return President Roh to power and give the chorus a chance to comment again on the impeachment episode through the elections. Our Open Party does well in the elections, making the president impeachment-proof for the rest of his term. Encouraged by the strong showing, President Roh focuses on governing and matures as a leader. Mindful of the judgment of history, the president governs from the center to create stability and to isolate the ideologues on both ends of the political spectrum. He leaves office in 2008 as a popular and respected president. An appealing conservative candidate narrowly wins the presidency in 2007, and a smooth transition of power occurs.
The muddle-through scenario: Events follow the best-case scenario, but President Roh’s enchantment with the politics of division continues. The president becomes frustrated and tries to control Our Open Party by playing off key figures against one another. The party has difficulty holding itself together and breaks up, leaving the president in an adversarial relationship with the National Assembly. The president becomes a lame duck early in his term and leaves office in 2008 as a weak and unpopular president. Resurgent conservatives win the presidency in 2007.
The upheaval scenario: The Constitutional Court approves the impeachment bill before the National Assembly elections and a new presidential election is called. The chorus comments harshly on the decision in the demonstrations that follow, but the demonstrations fade after the shock of seeing the president evicted from the Blue House fades. The people save their loudest comments for the National Assembly election by giving Our Open Party a majority. The party’s candidate wins the special presidential election and completes the rest of Roh’s term successfully. The party’s candidate wins the 2007 election in a final statement of indignation over the impeachment.
The chaos scenario: The Constitutional Court approves the impeachment bill after the National Assembly elections in which Our Open Party did well. Feeling doubly cheated, the chorus takes to the streets and the demonstrations become more violent by the day. Encouraged by the enraged deposed president, Our Open Party and other political groups boycott the special presidential election, which deprives the winner of legitimacy. An unwanted and unpopular president takes office amid continuing demonstrations. The economy weakens rapidly as political chaos encourages foreign investors to pull out of Korea. The new president has little choice but to resign and another new election is called, but conservatives boycott that election. Our Open Party fields a candidate who wins and survives the rest of Roh’s term, but the economy and image of Korea are badly tattered. Amid a sense of crisis, a third force wins the 2007 election.
The prime mover in the above scenarios is whether the characters and chorus are aware of the consequences of their actions. In the best-case scenario, the Constitutional Court correctly rejects the groundless impeachment bill. The hero, meanwhile, reflects on his mistakes and misfortune during the first year of his presidency and decides to work with the sympathetic National Assembly that the chorus has supplied. The Roh Moo-hyun tragedy ends. By contrast, in the chaos scenario, the characters and chorus act as if their actions have no consequences for the nation, turning the Roh Moo-hyun tragedy into a national tragedy.
In the few days since impeachment, signs are pointing toward a version of the best-case scenario. The transition of power to the acting president, Goh Kun, was smooth; the chorus has commented strongly but peacefully. The National Assembly is on the defensive amid the anti-impeachment blowback. Polls point to a strong showing for Our Open Party in the National Assembly elections, which would bring stability to the political scene. An exodus from the Roh Moo-hyun tragedy may be at hand.
* The writer is an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan.
by Robert J. Fouser