[Outlook]Democracy post-democratization

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[Outlook]Democracy post-democratization

Korean democracy is facing a crisis that threatens the very existence of the nation.

The failure of parliamentary politics during the yearend period and into the new year has upset people and left them feeling an acute sense of betrayal.

Even though the economic meltdown will take us through a difficult, bumpy road toward recovery, recent political behavior will not help the country move toward becoming an advanced democratic nation amid fierce global competition.

We are in a stifling situation, where the economic crisis has had serious ripple effects on the entire society. The economic crisis has led to a social crisis, and the social crisis to a political crisis.

Meanwhile, in developed nations politicians are taking the initiative to resolve the economic turmoil to prevent it from affecting the political realm. But here, how can we restore our staggering democracy?

We need to get back to the basics of democracy. We must destroy paradoxical ideas that insist our situation is exceptional.

The launch of the political system in 1987 heralded the beginning of the first phase of democratization. Now, we face our last chance to move toward the second phase of democratization, although belated.

If the first phase was initiated by recovering from dictatorship and authoritarian systems, such as corrupt elections, long-term seizure of power and breaches of the Constitution, we should strive to turn the second phase into an opportunity to ensure a Constitution-oriented democracy ruled by the law.

The position of each party on draft bills, over which they clashed violently recently, privileged the cause of party loyalty.

However, the failure of parliamentary politics was due to the lack of democratic procedures represented in the process of negotiation and compromise, not the difference in political position and cause.

A major culprit behind the fact that political procedures have been left unprepared for the past two decades lies at the root of the endemic backwardness of Korea’s progressive and conservative parties.

Korea’s progressive forces advocated their moral superiority, insisting that their contribution to the democratization movement in fighting authoritarian rule was comparatively bigger than that of others, and stuck to the idea of political struggle.

Thus, they encountered the irony of revealing their limitations in forming a new party supported by the people to practice real democracy after democratization had been achieved.

Furthermore, they failed to develop their party into one that a majority of people, including the middle-class, can support - as social democrats did in the West - despite 10 years in power.

They were fettered by a minority’s anxiety and continued to show the characteristics of the opposition, and got stuck in power struggles.

As the party in power, they failed to provide a blueprint for the people on how to improve equality and welfare in the whole array of society, encompassing the economy, society and culture, in a democratic manner. Since being relegated to opposition status again, they rely on displaying the characteristics of the opposition instead.

Meanwhile, the conservative ruling party still has a long way to go toward becoming a policy-oriented party, or a people’s party that has the capacity to further develop democracy.

This is why the people are disappointed.

The conservative ruling party is saddled with the moral burden of its connection to the legacy of authoritarian rule and enjoys the advantage of its pivotal role in the nation’s industrialization.

However, although it also continued to underpin the importance of entrepreneurs and markets as major contributors to industrialization, it lacks a comprehensive strategy to develop into a citizen-oriented force for society to get rich together, as symbolized by the Saemaeul (New Village) Movement. Furthermore, pre-modern patterns of partisan politics, such as the pro-Lee or pro-Park factions, alienate many.

There is no reason to follow in the staggering political steps of the first phase of democratization, which lasted more than two decades. We should end this political turmoil, which increasingly resembles a football game without rules or referees. We must overhaul politics across the board, and we should respect the Constitution.

From now on, we should initiate a constitutional debate in which decisions by the majority or an agreement between the ruling and the opposition parties should take precedence.

In addition, a special committee on revising the Constitution should be launched as early as possible to improve the operational rules for democratic politics.

In conclusion, both the politicians and the people should bear in mind lessons from history, that if we recognize a minority’s veto power or the right to refuse, democracy may be paralyzed by minorities from the left or right.

General and presidential elections scheduled for 2012 are not that far in the future. We can recover from the current economic and political crises by renewing the framework and rules of Korean democracy.


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

by Lee Hong-koo
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