[FORUM]Hacking away at authorityThe Roh Moo-hyun administration’s style of managing power is confrontational. It strikes back without mercy when anyone challenges its authority. Tolerance and reconciliation are not the two biggest characteristics of this administration. The president’s recent tirade against chief prosecutor Song Kwang-soo is a good example. In response to Mr. Song’s complaints about undue administration pressure on his office, the president brought the subject up during a cabinet meeting. “It is very inappropriate for the head of an organization to publicly and radically express his opinion about a government policy measure involving the organization,” Mr. Roh said. “That was an act that causes me to wonder whether the discipline of the nation is falling into disorder.”
Rarely had scenes of the president criticizing a particular individual appeared on television in past administrations. In April, 1994, when an agriculture minister in the Kim Young-sam administration resigned over the domestic uproar caused by the Uruguay Round, it was reported that the president had severely criticized him in a cabinet meeting. However, the president’s exact remarks were not made public. Making such a scene public could have helped the president establish his authority. However, deciding that it would make the public nervous about the state of discipline in the public order, the matter was dealt with quietly. Things are different with this administration. The president’s wrath was fully revealed on television and only by doing that did the president seem to be satisfied.
The Roh administration is accustomed to dividing everyone into friends and enemies. It is the opinion of the majority of the public that such behavior damages the function of politics to bring integration to society. However, from the point of view of the administration, there are clear advantages in defining who’s for and against them. Once sides are divided, it gives new life to one’s own side. The sense of belonging to a side leads to loyalty, and loyalty is very much needed in a tough political battleground.
All our presidents have had a dramatic political life. Syngman Rhee fought for independence and worked to establish modern Korea. Park Chung Hee succeeded in industrializing the country. Chun Doo Hwan also led a coup d’etat. Roh Tae-woo came to power as the consequence of the democratization declaration in 1986. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung both started out as democracy fighters and became presidents after making compromises with reality. Roh Moo-hyun’s presidential campaign was full of unexpected turns, including an alliance at the last minute with another candidate.
The majority of Koreans who have lived through turbulent times count a dramatic political career as one of the prerequisites of a leader.
The Uri Party legislator Kim Geun-tae recently made a thinly veiled challenge to the president. Unlike in the case of Mr. Song, President Roh has not made any public response. Mr. Kim, as a prominent figure who played a dramatic role in the fight for democracy under the military regime, would be the one to profit should the president seem to antagonize him.
Hacking away at established authority is the trademark of the Roh administration. Mr. Kim’s challenge is a boomerang that the administration has brought on itself.
If one is to manage power efficiently, one must match one’s words and deeds. Last week, the president told journalists that he did not like “uniformity.” Yet, he has turned against his own words with his reaction to Mr. Song’s complaints. Only a consistency in words and deeds will support and protect his power from a backlash.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of political news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyun