[GLOBAL EYE]Roh must make frontal attackIt’s been 10 days since the German parliament election ended. However, it has not yet been determined who will become the next chancellor and lead the German government. Political chaos continues as no one is sure whether Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democratic Party will be re-elected, whether Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Party will become Germany’s first female chancellor or if a third person will become the next leader of Germany.
It is a flashback to the nightmarish 2000 U.S. presidential election, a Kafkaesque chaos where the president-elect was not finalized until over a month after the election.
In the German election, voters did not clearly pick between the moderate left Social Democrats and the moderate conservative coalition of the Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union. The coalition won 35.2 percent of the vote and became the largest party in the Bundestag, but it only earned 0.9 percent more votes than the Social Democratic Party’s 34.3 percent, or 3 seats in parliament. As the possibility of taking power by allying with smaller parties vanishes, the two sides are considering the realistic option of a “grand coalition” between the conservatives and the liberals. However, “sleeping with the enemy” is not an easy task. Both Mr. Schroeder and Ms. Merkel persist in claiming the role of the chancellor who will lead the grand coalition. There is also the option of giving the chancellorship to a third person and withdrawing together.
In the end, the two sides even discussed a plan to share power by dividing the four-year term of the chancellor equally between them.
As far as the outcome goes, the decision of the German citizens clearly favors a grand coalition. An opinion poll showed that more than 70 percent of citizens supported the grand coalition plan. The German citizens believe that the new moderate reform of Mr. Schroeder, a compromise between growth and welfare, has its limits in saving Germany as the country is struggling with welfare burdens and labor problems. However, they also think it is still risky to give power to Ms. Merkel, a “German Margaret Thatcher” who is advocating an Anglo-style reform based on new liberalism. The coordinates of the reform the German citizens have demonstrated they hope for is to the right of Mr. Schroeder’s view but to the left of Ms. Merkel’s version. Considering the burden of the legacy left by the union of much of the European continent and the side effects of a new liberal reality centered on Britain and the United States, the Germans are making a reasonable choice. The two politicians have been clearly told the opinion of the people ― to find a point of contact and come up with a feasible structure for their grand coalition.
In Korean standards of distinguishing between liberals and conservatives, not only Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party but also the Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union coalition headed by Ms. Merkel are more liberal than conservative. Both political parties consider that distributive justice grounded on a market economy is a very important value. The only difference is the root of their beliefs. The Social Democrats find their base in the Marxism of the 19th century while the Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union coalition is based on Christian utilitarianism. After the 1966 parliamentary election, the Social Democrats were able to agree on a grand coalition with the Christian Democrat and Christian Social Union because of the values they share.
President Roh Moo-hyun is known to have a strong attachment to the idea of grand coalition. Held back by the limit of being a small ruling party with a large opposition, and the confrontational regional structure, Mr. Roh has reason to hope for a coalition with the major opposition party. However, Korea’s reality is different from that of Germany’s. The governing Uri Party and the major opposition Grand National Party have completely different roots. There is no common factor in terms of ideology or political line. A party from Mars and a party from Venus might be able to be physically combined, but a chemical union would be impossible. In the current Korean situation, a grand coalition might easily end up an inoperable venture.
A leader can and should work hard to get past inconvenient, regrettable reality. However, his attempts have to be based on adequacy and feasibility. Seeking a clever tactic to overturn the given situation with the purpose of political engineering is like hoping to win a political lottery.
In the end, there is only one way. He needs to make a frontal attack. He should study what the citizens want and need right now and carefully resolve each issue one by one.
Winning the hearts and minds of the citizens through sincere efforts is the most feasible means.
* The writer is the international affairs editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok