[Outllook]Troubling flaws in presidential system

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[Outllook]Troubling flaws in presidential system

President Lee Myung-bak has frankly acknowledged months of misrule, launched additional rounds of negotiations over the thorny issue of U.S. beef imports and overhauled the presidential office.

But while an apology is welcome, Lee has a long way to go before he can regain the support of the public.

The additional rounds of negotiations are not adequate enough to mollify the public’s anxiety. Lee is still unable to overcome his own limitations simply by reshuffling senior presidential secretaries.

In addition, the reshuffle suggests Lee continues to work alone and with power concentrated firmly in his hands. His latest move was an action born of dogma rather than good sense.

What has emerged is that faults lie deeply rooted in the current presidential system, especially when we compare such a system with a parliamentary cabinet system.

Korea’s presidents have run the country holding concentrated power, except for Choi Kyu-hah and Roh Tae-woo.

As designed, the institution fosters dogmatic rule by a president. The president has a monopoly on all important final decisions ? including the right to hire high-ranking officials ? and significant information.

As shown in the recently exposed power struggle among President Lee’s closest aides, flatterers are more likely to rise to power and monopolize profits under the current system than people who are loyal to their country.

However, a parliamentary cabinet system is one of group leadership. It is designed to run the country based on decisions agreed in a cabinet that includes a prime minister and ministers.

No one person is allowed to run the country on his own under the parliamentary cabinet system.

A person might reach a misguided conclusion, but the government is less likely to make wrong decisions under such a system, much less so than if the president is allowed to make decisions in a vacuum.

The presidential system follows the winner-takes-all rule. Since one person has a monopoly on power, the administration often fails to reflect the diversity of opinions and interests in government.

This system inevitably leads to a sharper divide between the power haves and have-nots.

A parliamentary cabinet system, on the other hand, shares power. Several political factions in the ruling party, or several parties in a coalition cabinet, wield authority together.

The parliamentary cabinet system means crucial national decisions go through a process that helps spur debates in the national legislature.

Opinions and interests from a variety of people usually get adequate exposure, which greatly contributes to facilitating national unity.

But no matter how much unsatisfied people feel with their leader, currently they have no choice but to wait five years because we live under a presidential system which guarantees the president’s term of office.

Under a parliamentary cabinet system people can change the regime anytime they want.

The parliamentary cabinet system is far better than the presidential system in terms of running the country in a democratic way.

One issue is that people feel more insecure about state administration under the parliamentary cabinet system.

This was shown when the parliamentary cabinet system was introduced for one year after the April 19 Revolution of 1960. However, thanks to political democratization in Korea, the general public has seen more political development than before.

Candlelight vigils, which are still going strong after more than one month, are a prime example.

Some people say the presidential system might cope better should a crisis with North Korea emerge. However, the country that won two world wars was not Germany, which was governed by an emperor and a chancellor, but Britain, which held to a parliamentary cabinet system.

It is imperative to promote national reconciliation and establish a kind of democracy that can cope with South-North Korean problems. However, the gulf between progressives and conservatives is getting wider than in the past.

What is worrying is that plutocracy is more likely to be strengthened under a parliamentary cabinet system, as in Japan.

It is my sincere hope that lawmakers will conduct in-depth discussions on the parliamentary cabinet system, as they are said to be opening a debate on revising the Constitution.

In this regard, it is necessary to promote the development of progressive political parties and civic groups, and facilitate the independent functions of journalism and the judicature.

*The writer is a professor of economics at the University of Seoul and a co-representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Keun-sik
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