[OUTLOOK]Coalition is a huge leap in logicPresident Roh Moo-hyun mentioned that he would like to create a coalition government even if it required him stepping down from the forefront of politics or shortening his term in office. Despite his plausible justification ― to overcome the governmental imbalances caused by regionalism ― he has received a rather uninterested response from governing Uri Party lawmakers, to say nothing of the Grand National Party.
Despite his intentions, the situation has developed in this fashion because his idea for a coalition government is based on an extreme leap in logic, and the seriousness of his remarks on the subject has become suspect as they are strongly reiterated while seemingly deviating from the point.
Firstly, the leap in logic starts with the premise that regionalism within the government is an absolute evil. Imbalances based on regionalism are not desirable, of course, but even so, it is hardly right to define them as an absolute evil. This regionalism was not formed without basis or background ― it had a function in the formation of the small-governing party and large opposition structure of the National Assembly, during the era of military dictatorships in the 1980s. Now, just as it was then, the climate is the same in that candidates with regional ties are easily elected, but unlike before, now there are almost no unqualified candidates nominated.
Because legislative candidates are nominated not by an “imperial” party chairman, from the top down, but by party members or voters, from the bottom up, chances are higher that competitive and capable candidates will be nominated.
Therefore, based on recognition of the reality in which political space is provided for capable people from the local community to engage in politics on its behalf, the problem of regional imbalances should be solved through reconciliation and tolerance. The definition of regionalism as an evil that must be removed might create an adverse effect in that entire groups of local residents are suddenly targeted for removal.
Secondly, it is also a leap in logic to believe that reform in the electoral system will overcome imbalances caused by regionalism. No one can say for sure that the election of a few representatives without regional ties will result in overcoming the “imbalanced regional scheme,” nor is there any country that has changed its electoral system on the pretext of overcoming regionalism. In the case of the United States, the Democratic Party won elections 141 times out of 142 in southern states, but the country did not change its system, nor did the political community suggest doing so.
Therefore, what is needed now is the wisdom to learn from the United States ― where regionalism was diluted as a result of the government and politicians being united and cooperative, while maintaining the existing system, not the experimental spirit of reforming the electoral system every time elections were held.
Even if reform in the system results in balancing out regionalism, the president needs to examine whether our society is competent enough to tackle the confusion and costs incurred by such a change. Many people wonder whether it is a wise choice for the president to devote all his energy to the problem of the electoral system, neglecting more pressing state affairs, and furthermore, whether the problem of regionalism is such an urgent political issue that it should be handled prior to everything else.
Thirdly, the most extreme leap in logic is to think that the formation of a coalition government will overcome the regionalism problem. Excluding the Millennium Democratic Party and taking the Grand National Party as a partner in a coalition is not different from the creation of the Democratic Liberal Party and the exclusion of the Peace and Democratic Party when three parties merged in the early 1990s. The president has contended that his proposal to form a coalition government this time would be different from then because open and transparent negotiations would take place, not a secret deal behind closed doors. However, as Mr. Roh’s idea of a coalition government will obviously end up excluding a party that represents Jeolla residents, his argument that the proposed coalition would differ from the merger of the three parties fails to be convincing.
Therefore, it is highly likely that a coalition would aggravate the issue of regionalism, rather than overcome it, and because of this, President Roh would ironically reproduce the situation of the early 1990s, which he took the lead in opposing. This is what makes observers laugh in spite of themselves and spreads a skeptical atmosphere about his idea of a coalition government.
Finally, the biggest problem is that no one knows the true intention behind the president’s remarks. As Mr. Roh reiterates his remarks on a coalition government, his ideas have become more complicated and confusing, instead of becoming clearer. As a consequence, even the ruling party is at a loss as to what to do, and it is completely unecessary to discuss the confusion being experienced by the general public.
The Blue House and the public seem to be acting independently from each other, as if political communication has been severed. As long as such a lack of understanding is left unrepaired, criticism that the president’s idea is unconstitutional is likely to continue. As the president is making people disoriented and confused when he should be gathering energy from them in striving to make Korea a more advanced country, I have no option but to say his idea of a coalition government is preposterous.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shim Ji-yeon