[OUTLOOK]Traditional values are neededNo matter what they say, the reality is that the Korean economy is in a slump. Naturally, we have long had a national consensus that the nation’s top priority is to boost and revive the economy. However, we must not commit the mistake of neglecting the crisis in democratic politics while being engrossed in overcoming the economic crisis.
Both the market economy and democratic politics are two living creatures. In modern history, we have seen so many cases of underestimating minor symptoms and consequently letting fatal illnesses develop.
If we go back to the textbook-worthy principles, the core of democratic politics is based on who will lead the nation, under whose principles, toward what goal and in what manner. Elections are a tool for citizens to determine who will lead the nation, and the establishment of a fair election system is a prerequisite for democratic politics.
Koreans are proud that we have successfully completed such a system. However, even for a democratically elected administration, it is never simple to determine whose principles it will follow and how it will do so. An administration that has failed to obtain the majority vote and is dependent on a coalition, or an administration that has won the election with a slim margin and has a weak national consensus, is faced with the difficult task of reaching an agreement for the majority.
In the past decade or so, the democratization of Korea has progressed considerably. However, it still hasn’t escaped from the swamp of insecurity and instability because the past administrations failed to reach a national consensus that enables the politics of the majority.
“All power comes from the citizens.” The turbulence in our history is because of the blunder that neglected the basic principle of democratic politics, which is that the support of the citizens is the most important source of power. Such a mistake of negligence could be the result of the dangerous arrogance felt by politicians who think they know better than the citizens.
When an election is over without producing a predominant winner, everyone emphasizes the politics of compromise and the politics of coexistence. However, the lack of necessary political tactics and techniques has hindered the politics of coexistence in the past. In order to accurately diagnose the illnesses of a democracy and write out an appropriate prescription, we need to consider the systematic aspect and the cultural aspect.
If we look at the systematic side, the current state management system, or the constitutional order, has obvious strengths and weaknesses. For example, the system of the Constitutional Court certainly deserves recognition for its prominent role in Korean democracy for deftly handling the enormous political crises surrounding the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and the capital relocation project.
In contrast, the task of systematic reform to correct the various evils of an irresponsible presidency and the Blue House-oriented state management system, whose roots go back to the foundation of the republic, has yet to be resolved.
However, the crisis of Korean democracy we are facing today owes more to the cultural and political aspects than the systematic. In our politics, the human virtues and knowledge that make compromise and coexistence possible have fallen into oblivion amid the excitement of division and rivalry. We have forgotten patience and humility, the virtues that have been long treasured in Korean tradition and that are also the basic principles of democratic politics.
If we are to gradually and properly improve the quality of citizens’ lives through hundreds and thousands of small reforms instead of changing the world with one big effort, endless patience is required. Because the truth cannot be monopolized by anyone, it’s important to have the humility to respect the other’s opinion and not just dismiss it right away. After all, a shortcut to overcome the political crisis requires Koreans, especially the politicians, to reclaim the traditional values necessary for the good of the community.
For some time, we have forgotten the importance of wisdom. The abstract outdoes the concrete, and ideology surpasses ability. What prevails is the absurd trend of looking up at the patriots more than the sages. I am concerned that our hard-earned democracy might degenerate into mobocracy. Politicians should mitigate the citizens’ disappointment by having patience and humility and work to be reborn as wise leaders.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo