[Outlook]With Roh, it’s all or nothing

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[Outlook]With Roh, it’s all or nothing

The most distinctive characteristic of the Roh Moo-hyun administration is its way of setting an agenda. President Roh is good at selecting a sensitive issue and pushing hard for it. After seven months in office, he declared that he would ask for a vote of confidence. As suspicions arose that one of his secretaries had received a bribe from a company, the president stood up for the people’s verdict. In 2004, the country was in constant chaos due to the vote of confidence, impeachment, National Assembly elections and the rule of the Constitutional Court.
After the impeachment crisis was over, the people wanted the president to concentrate on reviving the economy. However, he wanted to change the location of the capital, clear up suspicious historical incidents, revise or abolish the National Security Law and revise the Newspapers Act. None of the issues was aimed at improving people’s lives. All were aimed at challenging and destroying established systems. Some bills were revised, some are in process and some have been passed. The year 2005 passed by like that.
Early last year, the president’s new issue was social polarization. Late last year, he created another controversy by calling for a constitutional amendment. All of the president’s initiatives left the country seething and the people feeling nervous.
President Roh has his own special ways of moving agenda forward. First, he chooses an issue that has a strong cause and basic principles and morality and pushes for it. He selects an issue that society feels strongly about so his approval ratings go up. Then he acts as if the outcome is critical. “One of my aides took a bribe from a company. Throw a stone at me. I can give up everything.” That’s brinkmanship. Thanks to this tactic, the ruling party won a sweeping victory in the 2004 National Assembly elections.
“Pro-Japanese military forces have been prosperous for three generations. The relics of military rule should be sent to a museum.” This is the logic for clearing suspicions and injustices of the past. The task was supported by some 60 percent of the people, which was double the president’s approval rating at the time.
Second, the president’s agenda are designed to create division and conflict in a bid to unite his supporters. When issues are all or nothing ―impeachment or not, pro-Japanese or anti-Japanese, the transfer of the capital or not, and revision of the National Security Law or abolition of it ― there is no room for compromise. Politics is a process of negotiation and compromise, but there has been very little of that since the Roh administration entered office.
Between growth and fair distribution of wealth, cooperation with North Korea and international cooperation, clearing historical incidents and looking into the future, one should not be abandoned for the sake of the other; both should be taken into account. The administration forces the people to choose one or the other.
Third, President Roh’s agenda dominates the dimensions of time and space whether he intends them to or not. The administration is unsure about the future but is clear about the past. The administration uncovers past wrongdoings such as dictatorships, human rights violations, close relations between politicians and entrepreneurs, misdeeds of conservative dailies and issues of pro-Japanese forces. In doing so, the administration assures its own legitimacy and trustworthiness and pushes established systems into a corner.
With the issues of changing the capital’s location, equal development of all areas and development of the southwest coast, the administration attempts to dominate certain space to get support.
Why did President Roh bring up a constitutional amendment when his term is near its end? The five-year single-term presidency was a means to prevent a despotic ruler from prolonging his term, a precious victory of the democratic movement. On the 20th anniversary of democratization, to return to the four-year two-term presidency suits his cause.
Why, when the ruling circle has been divided, does the president bring back an issue that had been discarded?
By creating division, thus gathering the forces on the left, he could assume power again at best. At worst, he could say later as an opposition member that he had advocated the two-term presidency.
If the president wants to push for the revision even when ruling party members oppose it, he should declare that he will step down if the amendment fails. That would suit his style and shorten the exhaustive debate. If the presidential election was held six months earlier than planned, that would be good for the country and would prevent the presidency from drifting away. The president began his term with a mistake. Will he end it the same way?

*The writer is a senior editorial advisor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Nyong-bin
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