[Outlook]Lame ducks’ final quackRelations between the incoming and outgoing administrations were never that healthy.
Now they’ve gotten much worse.
On Tuesday, President Roh Moo-hyun said he could veto the new administration’s measure to restructure the government.
His comments are cause for concern.
Critics say President Roh is greedy and he is abusing his power. Others blame the culture behind the transition.
But an even bigger worry than a possible conflict between the old and the new powers is the innate weakness of Korea’s presidential system.
Its limitations have been highlighted during the recent election.
Through President-elect Lee Myung-bak, the rising power, and President Roh Moo-hyun, now in the last phase of his lame-duck presidency, two sides to the presidential system here have been exposed.
In the early period of office, Korea’s president has enormous power, close to something that an emperor might wield.
But on average, after 18 months in office, a president’s approval rating plummets to below 50 percent. Such a drop in popularity makes him a lame duck for more than half of his term.
President Roh Moo-hyun worked hard to rid government of excessive authoritarianism. He successfully divided power in the administration and in his political party.
But it took Roh more than a year to send 3,000 troops to Iraq due to the opposition of ruling party members.
Former President Kim Young-sam enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating shortly after he took office.
But his team was rocked by corruption scandals that left Kim virtually powerless for his last two years in office. Then the financial crisis hit in 1997.
To normalize the presidential system, two prejudices must be abandoned and a new approach must be adopted.
First, the president must have a new understanding about the presidency.
To be more precise, if a new president refrains from trying to “correct wrongs in history,” a job that former presidents undertook in the early periods of office, he will no longer be emperor-like.
Presidents around the world are often tempted to address the past and establish a new order and history.
The names might differ, but the projects commissioned by former presidents Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun all set out to “correct wrongs in history.”
In the process of carrying out their projects, presidents need huge resources and power. As a result, he becomes like an emperor.
When a president sets more realistic goals for his term, he can fight off the temptation to wield excessive power.
Second, what’s needed to stop the lame duck period from getting longer is changes in perception, not changes in the institution.
Our presidents in the past have been too powerful. For the past 20 years we have enhanced an institution to keep the president in check.
But some think the enhanced system for keeping presidents in check caused the lame duck period in the first place and made it last longer.
Is this really the case?
We can’t just blame the system for creating the lame duck period. In an advanced democratic society, a president should be able to carry out his duties and tasks even while being kept in check.
We now need a president who secures control through constant negotiations and communication. He must be able to promote his policy while engaging in dialogue with the opposition and his own party.
For instance, a president should constantly negotiate with farmers and interest groups, and persuade lawmakers opposing the deal to support it.
This approach is what is needed for approving the free trade agreement with the United States.
This kind of proactive policy is far more dynamic than simply maintaining that free trade agreements are part of a global trend and so others must follow.
The late Harvard University professor Richard E. Neustadt said a president’s competence stems from his skill in persuading others. Those words are still valid today.
The presidential system has lasted 20 years. It’s now time to make changes for the better.
We should remember that change stems from modifying the way we perceive what is happening around us, not just by changing the institutions.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon