[FORUM]Leave politics to politiciansThe Constitutional Court has ruled the special law on relocating the capital unconstitutional. Going so far as to cite the Gyeongguk Daejon (the “administrative canon” of the Joseon Dynasty), and introducing the concept, unfamiliar to ordinary people, of a “customary, or unwritten constitution,” the court ruled that the capital move should follow the procedures corresponding to constitutional revision, because Seoul has been the nation’s capital, by custom, for over 600 years.
Since the court’s decision, there has been heated jurisprudential discussion underway on the border between a written constitution and a customary constitution.
But such experts’ discussions aside, some ask a somewhat silly question, to wit: Is it right to confine our capital to Seoul, the Joseon capital, or should the idea of a “customary capital” be extended to five-millennia of Korean history? They wonder if the court means that Seorabul, the capital of Silla, Woongjin of Baekje, Pyeongyang of Goguryeo and Sanggyeong-yongcheonbu of Balhae were not our historical capitals?
Whatever. The fact is, even after the court’s decision, controversies and conflicts surrounding the administrative capital move are unlikely to disappear totally.
More seriously, the practice of referring all problems that should be left in the political sphere to the Constitutional Court could have serious consequences for representative democracy.
In this regard, a new controversy over judicial and political domains is likely.
In Russia in the 1990s, a famous incident took place with regard to the limits of the all-powerful Constitutional Court and the political sphere: the shelling of Parliament in Oct. 1993. The incident originated in a violent power struggle between the president, symbolizing reform, and parliament, representing conservative forces. Behind the scenes, the Constitutional Court was involved.
From Dec. 1991 to Oct. 1993, the figure with the most powerful leadership, and who drew the most public attention, was unquestionably Boris Yeltsin. At that time, Russian intellectuals and the world praised Mr. Yeltsin as the main player who had destroyed the old regime, called the Soviet Union, and as the leader who would lead the resurrection of a new Russia.
In modern Russian history, the period from Dec. 1991 to Oct. 1993 is often called “an age of dual power.” During this period, a period when reform looked likely to accelerate, constant antagonism and confrontation deadlocked the political process.
The Russian Parliament, then dominated by conservatives, held back every one of Mr. Yeltsin’s reform policies. When the passage of reform bills became impossible, Mr. Yeltsin enforced his policy as president; in turn, Parliament legislated laws that invalidated the presidential decrees. Confrontation seemed endless.
With politics deadlocked and the disputes over presidential and parliamentary authority raging, a new figure emerged at the core of political power. This was Valery Jorkin, chief justice of the Constitutional Court of Russia. As a result, fierce competition between the president and Parliament to win over Jorkin and the Constitutional Court judges began behind the curtains of the Russian political scene. This was the beginning of the Constitutional Court’s intervention in politics and its ascent to political power.
Tense with the prospect that he would be unable to take any act to govern if the “age of dual power” continued , Mr. Yeltsin announced a decree on Sept. 21, 1993, that a new constitution would be adopted and legislative elections would be held at the same time, along with an order to dissolve Parliament. Parliament reacted at once, dismissing Yeltsin from the presidency, appointing Vice President Alexander Ruzkoi provisional president, and requesting the Constitutional Court make an authoritative interpretation. Jorkin immediately ruled that the president’s dissolution of Parliament was unconstitutional. The confrontation between the Parliament and the president came to an end in October 1993 when Yeltsin mobilized tanks to dissolve Parliament by force.
By giving up the political domain and referring their authority to the judiciary, policians achieved a miserable result. I hope Korean politicians will make a strenuous effort to restore the power due to politics.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan