[Outlook]Creating a constitutional culture

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[Outlook]Creating a constitutional culture

The most urgent task facing the whole nation is definitely recovery from the economic crisis. However, curing political failure should be a significant prerequisite to accomplishing that task, as we are ultimately required to make a political choice, rather than an economic one, regarding policies, strategies and implementation measures to this end. Amid worldwide economic turmoil, every country has already embarked on a painful journey of unrelenting competition for survival and adaptation. They are concentrating all their energy on preparing themselves to engage in political action through securing competent leadership and reaching national consensus, so as to survive in this race. What is our situation at present?

It seems unnecessary to add more here regarding the public’s assessment and emotional perception of our politics. In short, public despair and anger is overwhelming. Such political failure just makes it more difficult to recover from economic crisis. What is worse, it will likely lead to public skepticism and despair over our democracy, which we paid a lot to realize. So why have we driven into such a blind alley?

As I have indicated many times, we have failed to institutionalize democracy despite our successful democratization. In a political vacuum in the aftermath of such failures, political struggles against authoritarianism have been repeated habitually. Democracy lost direction and went adrift. First and foremost, we should rid ourselves of a bad habit - passing the buck in unnecessary confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties, and conservative and progressive camps - to overcome any setbacks or obstacles in our way and keep the future course of institutionalizing democracy on track.

In addition, we should provide a forum for public debate to launch a new drive for Korean democracy based on mutual trust, realizing that all the Korean people desire is to achieve normal development of democracy. In this regard, I urge the National Assembly again to initiate discussion about the Constitution sooner rather than later, ideally at the special session of the National Assembly in April.

Although we have the Constitution, no constitutional culture has existed. The core values and goals of the Republic of Korea, as well as the basic processes and regulations for the national administration, as agreed upon by a majority of people, have not yet been amply structured in the public’s awareness and life so far. As the constitutional culture has not yet matured, the president, National Assembly, political parties, society, civic groups and even the Constitutional Court face mounting criticism over their alleged unfaithfulness to the Constitution.

The lack of a constitutional culture will inevitably be an obstacle to efforts to institutionalize democracy in principle. Against this backdrop, we should once again take an earnest attitude in the form of open discussion in the National Assembly, as we did at the establishment of the Constitution in 1948 and its revision in 1987.

It is high time we resolve the national agenda by gathering our wisdom rather than wasting our energy on useless political confrontation.

Serious confrontations at the National Assembly are derive from the issue of whether majority rule should be honored more than the consensus principle or the other way round.

In order to go beyond direct head-to-head confrontations and seek a binding legal framework, above all, we should start a discussion on how we can promote our understanding of the grand principles of democracy - majority rule and protection of the rights of minorities.

If a consensus with minority parties should be respected with a higher priority than majority rule, it means that we recognize minority groups’ veto power. That is a constitutional choice of grave importance.

We should engage in earnest discussions on whether such a decision can contribute to stabilizing democratic politics. And what would be the accompanying results?

Consensus-building efforts on constitutional issues - such as economic clauses defining the market economy versus administrative control of the market with regulation, basic rights clauses regulating the scope of the expansion of civil freedom versus the legitimacy of the political power that limits it, and clauses regarding the decentralization of political power that can be linked to the introduction of the bicameral legislature and the preparation of the Constitution for a re-unified Korea - will definitely enhance the possibility of rational deliberation and of reaching a compromise on draft laws with conflicting interests.

Constitutional discussion led by the National Assembly will improve legislative procedures that have been in turmoil and restore the public’s trust in politicians, and will contribute to heightening people’s political awareness and moving us toward a mature constitutional culture.

*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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