[Outlook]A president’s best
June is a month that will never be forgotten. It was when Korean’s dreams of democracy ignited and caught fire. However, whenever June comes, we feel restless about the direction Korean democracy has taken.
This June, Korea is again at a critical moment. According to daily newspaper headlines, our democracy is entering a new phase. During the first tide of democratization, people cried out against the dictatorship and in favor of revising the Constitution. They succeeded in launching the 1987 political system by helping establish direct presidential elections.
However, protesters at candlelight vigils advocate the need to renegotiate a deal allowing U.S. beef imports. This alone provides a dramatic example of the era of cyber democracy. People’s participation in politics is newly invigorated so that they show up in large groups to make their political opinions heard. They have shown that the administration of government can be paralyzed by group behavior.
We have again recognized that “the mind of the people is the mind of heaven.” However, before we try to understand the implications of a “second democratization,” we need to re-examine the situational logic rooted in the current political situation.
This will also serve as a window to look back on the development process of Korean politics.
All Koreans, including participants in candlelight vigils, public officials and the president, have one shared goal ? seeking the public interest. The principle of mutual trust should be a basic premise for the nation’s development. If someone fancies himself to be more patriotic than others and the only devotee to democracy (and in fact doubts others’ patriotism and democratic beliefs), it will be impossible to exchange views on Korea’s democratic development from the outset.
In addition, we should not forget that all public officials, including the president, have already recognized that the government made huge mistakes in the process of negotiating the U.S. beef imports issue.
Therefore, we need to ask the following question: What is the smartest approach to coping with the current crisis?
Working out differences and making smarter choices will be the remaining challenge for us. Many people participate in candlelight vigils to deal with the urgent need for renegotiation.
However, this suggests that Korea should abolish or annul the bilateral free trade agreement signed by Korea and the U.S. and start again from scratch.
The government and the ruling party are attempting to make de-facto corrections by holding complementary negotiations to set age limits for U.S. beef so that only meat cattle aged 30 months or younger is imported. Deciding how to approach the beef issue and the implications it has for the FTA are directly linked to the president’s duty as spelled out by the Constitution.
President Lee must renegotiate to satisfy a majority of the people’s demands. But what about his constitutional responsibility to act in the way that he believes will best protect the nation’s interests? Will the Korean people ask him to yield to public opinion, even if it means doing what he does not think is best?
This is the basic dilemma that the “second democracy” implies. It means that questions such as who can make a critical decision on behalf of the people and who will be responsible for the outcomes will be raised.
We need to make a detour to avoid the dilemmas of democratic politics. To this end, it is necessary to adopt a politics of compromise, to make sure that the National Assembly shares the responsibility of running the nation and party politics operates in a stable manner.
However, this national uproar suggests imbalances between people’s participation in direct democracy and a representative political system. People’s ability to participate in direct democracy has been greatly enhanced by the Internet, while parliamentary politics is on death’s door.
We should bear in mind the dangers derived from these imbalances. It is time to share national wisdom to tackle the renegotiation problems on the U.S. beef issue.
We have once again gone through the evil of a “president’s irresponsibility,” which means that the president tried to be responsible but failed.
The Korean people have favored the presidential system with no definite object in view. It is my sincere expectation that we will have a chance to avoid the phobia of a constitutional amendment this time. I also expect that people will be actively engaged in reforming the political system that helped secure representation, responsibility and efficiency of politics.
We need to realize that active political participation in the era of cyber democracy will serve as a true growth engine for democratization, only when the criteria for responsibility are respected.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo