Dinner at the Blue HousePresident-elect Lee Myung-bak has finished his tour of opposition parties. He visited the United New Democratic, Democratic Labor, Democratic and People First parties. In the short term, Lee asked them to cooperate when voting on the new administration’s government reform plan and during confirmation hearings. In the long term, it was an important step to promoting a productive relationship between the Lee administration and the legislature.
Separation of power among the administration, legislature and judiciary is a pillar of the democratic constitutional system. Lee’s presidential victory provided him with power only over the administration. Legislative power will depend on the outcome of the April legislative elections.
The judiciary is already independent. Eight of the nine-member panel on the Constitutional Court were appointed during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. If the court ruled that the comprehensive real estate tax is constitutional, the Lee administration will have a hard time abolishing it.
In a democratic country, there is no monopoly on power. The power structure is intertwined with complexity. For an administration to function, it must choose dialogue and cooperation over arrogance and pressure.
It is, therefore, meaningful that Lee visited the four opposition parties and asked them to cooperate in smooth governance. This meets the global standard. In the United States, we often see opposition politicians outnumber the ruling party. It is a president’s duty to persuade legislators to pass a bill.
Many U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush and George W. Bush, have invited ruling and opposition lawmakers to the White House to ease opposition to administration-backed bills. It is basic politics for a president to directly telephone an opposition legislator.
Lee’s efforts for cooperation should not be limited to the short term. In the April elections, the Grand National Party may win a majority of the National Assembly ― perhaps more than 200 seats in the 299-member legislature. It will be a strong ruling party.
Even if this happens, Lee must continue to talk with the opposition. No matter how small the other party might be, he must respect the National Assembly and all its members. When all opposition lawmakers are invited to the Blue House to dine with the president to discuss the nation’s pending issues, the relationship between the administration and the legislature will enter its next stage of maturity.