[OUTLOOK]President has the wrong focusPresident Roh Moo-hyun’s urgent appeals everyday about the current political and economic circumstances arouse mixed feelings. As the president speaks to the public about critical state affairs, the issues carry considerable weight and create an uneasiness.
The president said the small governing party and large opposition bloc in the National Assembly are fomenting problems. He said this structure makes Korean politics an oddity, and so the nation needs alternatives.
The president said he could not tell us about what he has in mind yet, but speculation abounds. If the measures involve policy cooperation or a political reshuffle, they can be endured as supposedly normal “disturbances.”
But the uneasiness arises because of the possibility the president has in mind a constitutional revision for reorganization of the power structure. Still, there is little to fear in changing the presidential system into a parliamentary system. What is worrisome is if he plays the wrong cards again after he twists our arms into reshuffling the deck, saying he did not like them.
As is well known, there cannot be the small-governing party and large-opposition structure under a parliamentary system, for the party that cannot sustain a majority of seats in the Assembly cannot constitute the government. But uncertain political situations may follow when the governing party cannot command a majority in the Assembly, as it is in the current situation.
Let’s think about it. How can we be tolerant when there is a reshuffling in the political circles about every year and when politicians cause the people to fall into distress and seek their own interests?
Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that “the stalemate between the governing and the opposition parties” under the presidential system, and “the uncertain political situation” under a parliamentary system are like twins. Even if the systems are swapped, the result will be the same.
Unless the rigid handling of the political situation is changed, the problem will not be resolved. Politically speaking, the opposite of rigidity is compromise. The administration will not be able to get at the root of the problem until it realizes the reason it cannot break the rigidity and works to relieve it.
When the ruling force abandons its dream of a power shift and only makes an effort to increase its chances of being re-elected, the rigidity will be alleviated. When the administration offers a vision and embraces the majority, it will also feel the need for compromise.
Despite the fuss both the governing and opposition parties make while claiming to promote reform, the people are sick and tired of it because they hear no hopeful words. All they can see is the enormous desire for power. Because power comes from the people, the political parties should not try to change the power structure.
Of course, a legislature controlled by the opposition can cause painful results. But this is not abnormal. On the contrary, it is a good opportunity to test the presidential system.
The president said Korea has suffered from a small governing party and a large opposition since 1988, but there was a ray of hope upon closer examination.
It was right at that time that a door to democracy was opened in the dark age, when illegitimate dictatorships had taken over a majority in the Assembly by force.
At last, the country has entered an age where citizens hold political power, and if the opposition parties come to control the legislature with more seats, the governing party should strive to take a majority from them in elections, instead of blaming the structure of the Assembly.
From the standpoint of political history as well, now is the time to promote the presidential system, not to abolish it. If there has been any achievement throughout the past 50 years, it is the presidential system.
In addition, there are now signs of improvement in the system. The central part of the presidential system is the division of power, and the core of the division of power is the independence of the legislature. For the National Assembly to be independent of the president, the president should not exercise the power to nominate legislative candidates. But that is the current direction.
In the same context, the principle of a separation between the party and the administration that the president has taken the initiative in putting into practice is beneficial to the independence of the Assembly, too.
If these principles take root, the “presidential non-responsibility” system that we have seen up to now will turn into the “presidential responsibility” system.
The party will then no longer need to handle the consequences after the Blue House causes problems, as it does now.
What is needed is to discuss the term of the president, the introduction of a vice presidential post and the adjustment of the dates for the presidential and legislative elections. And this should be done by about the end of next year.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Choong-bin