[OUTLOOK]Still in an age of infertilityThe third year of the Roh Moo-hyun administration is passing. How will history remember the year 2005? Has the year been a period of “infertility” with no productive outcome due to confrontations and an obsession with the past? Or has it been a year of economic revival and successful reform?
The Roh administration has started off this year in a more advantageous position than ever. In early 2004, the fledgling Uri Party was the third-largest political party in the National Assembly, with less than 50 seats. By the beginning of 2005, the Uri Party had been transformed into a giant ruling party with a majority. Mr. Roh, who was pushed to the brink by an impeachment attempt in early 2004, welcomed 2005 from a vantage point as the ruling party dominated the National Assembly.
Reflecting the changed position, Mr. Roh was more confident and composed than ever at the beginning of the year. He emphasized “reconciliation and embracement” and promised to make an all-out effort to save the economy. Of course, he did not forget to mention his will to continue “reform,” something deeply connected to the identity of the administration.
However, halfway into the year, Mr. Roh’s composure began to gradually change into nervousness. As the economy showed no sign of rebound, social polarization became more serious and he could not find a clue to resolving any of the issues related to inter-Korean relations, the alliances with the United States and Japan, labor relations and political struggles with the opposition.
What makes Mr. Roh most impatient is that he has not had a notable achievement that would represent his administration more than half way into his term.
While debates over the merits and faults of past administrations still continue, they all have left at least hallmark achievement. The Park Chung Hee administration accomplished economic development, and the Kim Young-sam administration introduced the real-name financial transaction system. The Kim Dae-jung administration brought an improvement in inter-Korean relations. However, the Roh Moo-hyun administration still has no accomplishment to boast of. While it advocates reform, there have been no tangible results, and the citizens are increasingly feeling tired of the reformist slogans that have been reiterated for more than a decade since the Kim Young-sam administration.
With two more years remaining in the term, one might wonder it might be too early to have such worries. Nevertheless, it is about time for the administration to show at least a vague sense of direction, not to mention results. Some would argue that the Roh administration has succeeded in redefining modern history and clarifying past issues. However, we still have to watch whether such efforts can be the first step to reconciliation or toward chaos and division. Moreover, it is questionable whether the citizens will consider those things achievements.
President Roh’s moves in the second half of the year have been marred by his irritation. This nervousness seems to have influenced his grand coalition plan. With no clear progress in the economy, diplomacy or North Korean relations and with his ever-declining approval rating, Mr. Roh might have hoped to make a name for establishing a political climate of “democracy without antagonism” through a grand coalition. The impatience might have been a motivation for the Roh administration’s unreasonable backing of Hwang Woo-suk’s stem cell research. He might have thought that he could leave an accomplishment of nurturing the biomedical engineering field into the next growth engine of the Korean economy.
Having spent three years of its five-year term, the Roh administration is now in the late stage of middle age and has entered its late autumn. Around this time, a man matures and grows wise. Autumn is the season of harvest. It is time to welcome the approaching elderly days and prepare for the winter with the fruits of its labor.
However, it seems that the Roh administration can’t afford the leisure of enjoying winter. Because it has little savings, its elderly years are precarious. With no fruit in storage, the administration is worried of how to get over the winter as the new year approaches. Instead of preparing for a grand closure, it might become more nervous. I am worried that the administration might make a reckless move out of impatience.
Around the end of 2003, the first year of the Roh administration, I had written a column for a daily newspaper titled, “The Age of Infertility.” It is very regrettable that I have to add “still” to the title two years later to describe the present situation of Korea.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Il-young