[OUTLOOK]Uri leaders must really leadFormer President Roh Tae-woo unified three parties to create the Democratic Justice Party, but seceded from the party at the end of his tenure. Former President Kim Young-sam formed the New Korea Party but broke away from it three months before his term ended. Former President Kim Dae-jung also left his party when nine months were left in his term. According to these customary practices, President Roh Moo-hyun also needs to leave his party, although more than 14 months are left in his tenure.
When Mr. Roh spoke about his tenure and breaking away from his party at a Cabinet council meeting, I could not understand his intentions. His remarks were confusing because of his typical way of speaking, where he talks about himself as if talking about someone else. It was unclear whether he meant to say he would step down before his term ended or if he was asking for help so he did not need to resign early. But somehow, the media seemed to figure out his intentions and ran articles about his resignation, giving the impression that this would happen for sure. Then the president changed his way of speaking overnight and said clearly and directly that he would serve out his tenure and would not secede from his party.
He then sent a letter to party members, saying he could empathize with the three former presidents who left their parties under pressure to do so. He was discriminated against by his Uri Party because of regionalism and the confrontations between a small number of governing party lawmakers and a large number of opposition party members, which have been repeated since 1987, he wrote in that letter. In such a system, there is a limit for the president to discharge his duties, he also wrote.
Mr. Roh tried to blame the “system” that has been there for a long time for his misrule. It is unbelievable that he said so, because he is the one who tried to take advantage of regionalism while crying out on the outside to abandon it. He is the one who created conflicts and confrontations in the extreme. He did so even when he still had strong support from the people and from his party. There is no time to talk only about what happened in the past. I want to believe that Mr. Roh has a good reason for his decision not to leave his party. I hope he will not change his decision but will become the first civilian president to serve his full term as senior member of his party. For that to happen, he should change himself.
He should become familiar with the National Assembly, where the ruling party members are outnumbered by opposition party members. It is a reality that he cannot reverse, even if it was the result of regionalism.
There is no arbitrary or institutional way to abolish regionalism. He should not denounce another party, saying it is turning back into a local party. Every politician who has talked about regionalism has turned out to be a hypocrite. The only way is to build trust and win peoples’ hearts. Until then, we should learn to accept reality. Even when compromising is almost like surrendering, he should compromise, if necessary. Although Mr Roh may think the people are ignorant, they all know who is a good guy and who is a bad guy.
The Uri Party should not blame only Mr. Roh. It is not that the party does not earn support from the people only because of him, and making him leave will not resolve all problems. The party should do what it can do to win people’s hearts. If it wants to keep Mr. Roh in check, the ruling and opposition parties should work together and, as a whole body of the National Assembly, keep him in check.
Lawmakers should also reach agreement on bills regarding people’s livelihoods. Then the people will be happy and relieved. If the governing party compromises with opposition parties while keeping its identity, if it can keep the president and his aides in check; on the base of the people’s support, it can end the malpractice of seeing a succession of presidents leave their parties. The ruling party has a duty to do so. Whether it can or not depends on its leadership.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University.
by Cho Choong-bin