[Outlook]Stifling debate stifles the countryPresident Roh Moo-hyun tried to take the country by storm by proposing a constitutional amendment to adopt a four-year two-term presidency. But so far, the storm that followed has only been big enough for a teacup.
The Grand National Party, which has political clout, has adopted the strategy of ignoring his proposal, instead of vigorously opposing it. In the last presidential election, the main opposition party’s candidate led the campaign but was defeated by Mr. Roh at the last minute.
The Grand National Party is afraid of losing its political clout to President Roh again, so it is trying to avoid debate on the constitutional revision altogether.
Under the Constitution, the president is the most powerful person in the country. By Max Weber’s definition, having power means an individual can achieve his or her will in a social relationship even when other are resistant.
However, in Korea at this moment, the president’s political power is not strong enough to push through the constitutional amendment against the opposition parties’ resistance.
An absence of presidential power is more than a crisis of the administration. It is a crisis of the Korean Constitution and the country itself.
In fact, President Roh has brought failure on himself. Shortly after he entered office, he was involved in an argument with an ordinary prosecutor and didn’t pull rank. The president gave the prosecutor a chance to confront him and the crisis of his power started.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Roh’s anti-authoritarianism was viewed as an attractive trait. However, after he became the president, the attitude resulted in the fall of presidential power.
The power that the Constitution endows on the president is not a badge of rank that one can wear or take off at will.
The president is a symbol of his country.
A country is a leviathan that places all its power in a social contract, which governs individuals in order to end infighting. The constitution works as the social contract.
A revision of the constitution is a serious matter because it means changing the contract.
It is oxymoronic that the president, the commander in chief of the army, says derogatory words about the army but wants to exert the power to change the contract.
The words of Mao Zedong, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” may not be directly applied to our democratic society.
Nevertheless, political power stems from the force with which one can compel others, no matter what type of power it may be.
As seen in the recent debate with Lee Yong-deuk, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions chairman, President Roh is anti-authoritarian when he talks but he isn’t when he listens to others.
Although this dualism is a universal limit of almost all human beings, the student activists-turned-politicians seem to have that character more distinctively than others.
People can easily be anti-authoritarian when they do not possess the power to compel others to their will. However, when these people assume power but spit out vulgar words without authority, such words affect their power.
The former student activists have a dualistic view on Korea. The process of democratization was full of fights against the authoritarian regime and as a result of these fights, the incumbent administration was born.
Many of the people who fought against authoritarianism now dominate the core of the administration. As they have become the leaders of the country that they once denied, they have formed a dualistic view of the country.
Now is the time for them to abandon their dualistic perspective of the country.
Democratization is not only resistance against the leviathan (the country) but also a process to induce a consensus among the people. The debate on the constitutional revision should serve as momentum to change the direction of democratization.
After President Roh’s will for the constitutional amendment weakens, the country and politicians will focus on the presidential campaign. Politicians will gather or part depending on their interests, and free-for-all fights will increase in every social sector.
But we do not need to be afraid of chaos, because chaos is the premise of a new order, as written in Genesis.
What’s more important is the country, not President Roh. Therefore, to ignore the debate on the constitutional revision is not the best idea.
The presidential hopefuls should present their blueprints to show how they will rebuild the country.
*The writer is a professor of history at Kyonggi University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Gi-bong