[Outlook]A moment for national dialogue

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[Outlook]A moment for national dialogue

Ahead of the 60th anniversaries of the founding of the Republic of Korea and the establishment of the Korean Constitution, a series of unfortunate events has happened.

Among them, mass protests over U.S. beef imports have continued to fill the streets of Seoul for several weeks, making the Korean people ponder a number of issues.

We are standing at a point of history from where we can celebrate our incredible achievements over the past half century. However, there is a widely prevailing anxiety that we may drift into a state of emergency, as Korea’s democracy and politics face their most critical moment.

This situation goes beyond the realm of choice whether to eat beef or not. Even basic regulations applied to Korean politics and public administration of state affairs, as well as basic values and social norms have been severely impaired as the national chaos continues.

How can we have a big party to celebrate Korea’s 60th birthday when such restlessness prevails? Everything has its time. Now is the time to share our wisdom to lay a solid foundation for strengthening the basis of state affairs and make a quantum leap into the future.

The 18th National Assembly has already encountered repeated difficulties prior to its official opening. These problems have exacerbated a sense of disappointment and have helped form dark clouds of skepticism that hover over Korea’s political landscape.

However, the surprisingly good news is that the Assembly is swiftly initiating major reconstruction work on Korea’s democracy and politics. The 18th National Assembly members share views and aspirations by a tacit understanding that now is the time to take Korea’s politics into a higher plane to cope with a new era.

As many as 170 lawmakers launched the Assembly’s Constitutional Research Group for Future Korea, regardless of their political affiliations. In addition, they are engaged in building a national consensus and rearranging the basic norms and regulations that lie at the heart of public administration of state affairs. Now is the time to promote the development of the nation’s democracy and politics, as such decisions made by incumbent lawmakers reflect prevailing expectations.

It is understood that they attempt to conduct a physical examination across the board on the basic framework and operating system of Korean politics, going far beyond the realm of the argument to revise constitutional law.

It is expected that national discussion will contribute to resolving the following two tasks facing Korean politics, including whether or not there is a critical need for revision of the Constitution.

First, Korea fancies itself as a front-runner in the era of electronics and information technology, thanks to widespread access to the Internet and mobile phones.

In this regard, we are confronted with the task of developing new ways to encourage more political involvement in the era of cyber-democracy that accompanies information revolution, within boundaries that do not pose an obstacle to the stable management of Korean politics.

Second, Korea has already adopted the standard of international sharing in various fields including the economy and culture. Against this backdrop, we need to conduct a radical overhaul of Korea’s political system so that it can emerge from backwardness and exceptionalism.

Korea is perhaps the only country in the world where the following agenda items ? human rights, opening, anti-dictatorship and the anti-nuclear movement ? are understood as political creeds for a conservative political party rather than a progressive party. No matter how peculiar inter-Korean relations are, such an abnormal political party system should be reformed as quickly as possible.

Most of all, we need to be well aware that there is constitutional law but no social contract in Korea, before embarking on a nationwide project on creating a new framework and regulations required for developing Korea’s democracy and politics in a new era.

No matter how well-prepared the Constitution is, if there is no national pledge of commitment and willingness to give it respect, all we have are castles in the air.

People need to share a national consensus and pledge of commitment on what the nation’s basic values and goals are and how fair regulations needed for social protection and public administration of state affairs should be.

In other words, the Constitution will become an effective indicator for community management only when all people bear in mind the importance of the social contract. The public must participate in the pledge of their free will, and they need to have an infinite sense of responsibility on fulfilling a duty by observing the Constitution.

We have just begun a nationwide dialogue on how to share the importance of a social contract and facilitate the revision of the Constitution at the same time. It is a national expectation that the National Assembly will launch a special committee on revising the Constitution in charge of the aforementioned debates based on agreement between ruling and opposition parties, as the regular National Assembly session begins this autumn.

Their foremost task is to hold a public hearing that will provide people with varied backgrounds and diverse interests enough opportunity to participate in the debate before the public. They should be well-prepared to give everyone an opportunity to have their say.

When we decide that a considerable level of national consensus and social contract is obtained through the process of collecting public opinions, we should be able to take appropriate steps to go through the official revision of the Constitution at the regular National Assembly session of 2009.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea and the establishment of the Constitution.

It also offers us a great window of opportunity to lay a solid, new foundation of Korea’s politics and reinvigorate itself. As we all know, sound and constructive national debate is only available in a country of liberal democracy.

Let us devote ourselves to taking full advantage of this opportunity.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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