[OUTLOOK]Justices to the rescue, againThe justices at the Constitutional Court are making a good case that they are the only adults in government.
Ruling that a special law to move the administrative capital of the country from Seoul to the provinces is unconstitutional, the justices mirrored their wisdom when they decided in the spring to reinstate President Roh after he was impeached for obviously silly reasons.
Government officials and Uri Party lawmakers might now be crying in their boilermakers, but the truth is the court saved the president and his confederates from having to follow through on a colossally expensive and perhaps ruinous campaign pledge.
It would be a mistake to see the judgment as some sort of vindication for President Roh’s opponents in the Grand National Party. No one should forget that the grandstanding conservatives, now victorious in their fight against the capital relocation, enthusiastically voted for the move 10 months ago.
The bipartisan backing in the National Assembly for transferring the government out of Seoul was, as the leftist Democratic Liberal Party keenly pointed out, a brazen appeal for rural votes in the April elections.
The other adults in Korea work in the private sector. The financial markets hardly blinked at the court decision, having figured out that Seoul was unlikely to lose its position as the country’s pre-eminent city. Actually, this never took much deep analysis. The reverence Koreans have for Gyeongbok Palace, Gwanghwamun, Mount Bukhan and even Admiral Yi’s statue told the story. How could the government even think about leaving all that behind?
The court declared that even if it wasn’t exactly written into the constitution, Seoul is the capital and that more than political expediency in the National Assembly was needed to change that fact.
Now the president can sheepishly shrug and say, as he did when he was informed of the court verdict, “I never heard of that theory.”
The conservative press took the capital transfer issue seriously, using it as one more target in its war with the Uri Party. The progressive lawmakers, in revenge, are orchestrating a legislative attack to cripple the major newspapers, if not actually cause the death of the free press. Korea’s politics of attrition never stop.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic community appeared more amused than worried that they would ever have to pack up and leave Seoul along with the greater part of the Korean government. Most embassies planned, as did the United States, to remain in the city they knew best.
One European ambassador was openly scornful of a government public relations campaign aimed at convincing diplomats that they could look forward to a wonderful life in Yeongi-Gongju in South Chungcheong province. He said his tight quarters in Hannam-dong were comfortable enough. “What would there be to do in the countryside?” he asked. “Take walks?”
As for the campaign pledge to shift some government offices and workers to the provinces, that should be easy enough to do. It has been done before.
Though the president is a proud man and known for saying that the fate of his administration rested on the capital move, he is also a pretty crafty politician and should not be underestimated. He’s been winning on long shots for some time now. He may well have thought all along that the court would bail him out and may be breathing a sigh of relief. After all, he is now free to work on arranging a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
If Mr. Roh wants, he could also turn some more attention to finding a way to convince the clique in the North to stop making nuclear weapons and start feeding the people it mercilessly controls. That would be a good job for grown-ups.
* The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Charles D. Sherman