[OUTLOOK]Parties must compete on policy

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[OUTLOOK]Parties must compete on policy

The talk between President Roh Moo-hyun and Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye ended without result, only confirming the difference in views between the two sides. The differences in their stances were too great to give meaning to the first face to face meeting between the president and the leader of the major opposition party after two and a half years, and they made rather provocative and emotional statements to each other. If anything was gained from the talk, it was the confirmation that the proposal from the president to the Grand National Party for a great coalition is unrealistic as each has a different understanding of reality and political routes to the other.
Now the political world and the people are greatly interested in what President Roh will do next and are watching for his next move. Some predictions are that the president will give up on a great coalition with the Grand National Party, but perhaps pursue a small coalition with the Millennium Democratic Party or the Democratic Labor Party instead, or try to open discussions on constitutional revision. If President Roh continues his efforts to restructure the political community as he has been doing for the past two months, there is a high chance that politics will become confusing and the people’s anxiety will amplify. The majority of the people hope that now the talks are over, the consumptive debates and confusion surrounding a coalition government will stop and productive politics that can give hope to the people who are tired of the weak economy will begin.
In order for this to happen, President Roh has to first get rid of any attachment to a coalition, since the Grand National Party, the counterpart of the coalition proposal, made clear its rejection of the proposal. In fact, it was not only the Grand National Party, but even a large number of governing party members, who expressed opposition to a coalition. Public opinion on the matter was negative also. The idea of forming a coalition government with a party that has a different ideology and political platform was refreshing, but even the president probably knew that it would have been difficult.
Secondly, although talks on the coalition should stop, efforts for a politics of dialogue, such as policy consultations at the working level, should continue. It was anticipated that an agreement on a coalition government was not likely at the meeting between Mr. Roh and Ms. Park, but it is disappointing they could not produce a line of agreement, only exposing the vast differences in their position on other state affairs. In order for the politics of dialogue and compromise to materialize, politicians need to adopt an accommodating attitude to the logic and opinions of the other side. I hope a special committee will be formed at the National Assembly, and that both sides will start practical discussions both on an electoral district system reform bill, which the president emphasizes as a means for solving regionalism, and economic recovery and matters related to people’s livelihood, on which the Grand National Party puts emphasis.
Thirdly, I hope the political parties will play a leading role in future political negotiations. In the past two months as President Roh single-handedly took care of discussions on a coalition government, the role of the parties shrank to a diminutive one. It was an especially serious challenge to party politics when the president proposed a coalition with the Grand National Party which he had previously attacked as a party that should not exist, and mentioned leaving the governing party that, in fact, was created by him.
Institutionalizing the fragile party system and settling a political culture in which each party competes with pratical platforms and policies are indeed the core tasks for the development of Korean politics and, furthermore, a key to relieving regionally biased politics. The Uri Party that has been dragged around by the president’s coalition drive without a clear party opinion must look for its political role by trying to more actively represent public opinion.
Lastly, the productive role of the major opposition party, the Grand National Party, is also important to establish the politics of dialogue and co-existence. The Grand National Party has consistently stuck to a passive attitude, ignoring President Roh’s proposition for a coalition government. However, even if the Grand National Party rejects the coalition, it is still its responsibility to actively present alternative measures necessary to relieve regional rivalry that the president identified as the goal of his proposed coalition. That is the only way the party can show to the people that it has no intention of settling down as a party that enjoys the support of Yeongnam provinces, a vested interest. In addition, the party should actively present alternative policies to revive the economy and relieve difficulties in people’s livelihoods, and make efforts to persuade the governing party. If the Grand National Party waits for reflective benefits from a decline in the president’s and governing party’s approval ratings, while failing to innovate itself, its future is dark.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Nae-young
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