[Outlook]Practice what you preach

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[Outlook]Practice what you preach

A conflict has erupted over whether heads of government-owned organizations appointed by the former administration should resign or not.
Grand National Party Floor Leader Ahn Sang-soo and Culture Minister Yu In-chon have urged heads who don’t share the same ideas as the Lee Myung-bak administration to quit.
The incumbent administration maintains that if a new administration takes office, people in charge of government-owned organizations must seek a vote of confidence.
The opposition party is against this argument. It says that the Lee administration simply wants to replace sitting heads with people the administration favors, a move that destabilizes the tenure system.
While some heads of government agencies have already resigned, the administration says those who are staying will damage the effectiveness of the new administration.
Meanwhile, those who refuse to leave say the new administration’s demand underscores its arrogance.
A compromise between the two sides is unlikely.
However, we have to approach this issue with universal norms and rules, instead of looking at it in terms of party politics.
We need to note that the term of a head of a government agency does not necessarily coincide with a president’s term of office.
This means that the current situation, in which heads are being asked to resign, will reoccur whenever a new administration takes office.
Clearly, this is a problem.
As a way forward, the ruling and opposition parties must stop applying dual standards. Instead, politicians must think seriously about establishing a new rule; something similar to customary law, and not written law.
One of the reasons people have lost faith with politics is that political parties and politicians say one thing when in power, and another when in opposition. When they debate the same issues, the parties adopt different standards according to their positions. As a result, peoples’ distrust deepens.
If all the officials in government organizations resign, as the new administration wishes, there should be one condition: The same will happen under future administrations.
The Grand National Party should promise that all government officials employed by the incumbent administration will quit when the term of the administration finishes.
They could also reach a compromise and let the officials of government organizations serve out their jobs.
If this is to be the case, the next administration must abide by the same rule. They can even set a rule that says that government officials who have less than a year remaining in their terms must resign.
Conflicts, though, can be created in the course of setting a rule. The government must decide who will make the first concessions and sacrifices.
If the rule is applied from now on, those who were employed under the former administration should resign now. This means the opposition party will have to make more sacrifices than the ruling party.
If the rule is applied from the next administration onwards, it will seem more unfair on the current administration.
Conflict and confrontation are inherent to politics, but they are not a given.
That is why it is so frustrating to see people in Korea’s political circle confront each other over every issue. They look for anything that will wound their enemies. The battles often appear to be life-or-death struggles.
Now, 20 years since Korea was democratized, a power shift between the ruling and the opposition party is seen as natural. Perhaps it is time to sit down and make different rules for politics.
For a start, it would be a good idea if politicians stop fighting over every issue and making every issue a political strategy.
To end such unproductive customs, we need to set a new universal rule.
Democracy is the process in which people make universal rules that are applied to everyone. Such rules must be respected.
Politicians must stop thinking, “I don’t want go through trouble, but you should,” or “We will play by this rule this time, but by another next time.”
If they abandon this perspective, politicians will be able to coexist without hostility, and Korea’s politics will stabilize.
This is a political development that all Koreans want to see.

*The writer is the head of a research institute for democracy at Sungkonghoe University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Hi-yeon

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