[Viewpoint] It’s time for politics to mature

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[Viewpoint] It’s time for politics to mature

It is fortunate that our society remains immune to a nostalgic craving toward autocracy. That’s not true everywhere. Around the world, there are authoritarian movements on both ends of the political spectrum, spawned by unusually unstable social and economic times.

Korean politics have gained a strong resistance to such dangerous authoritarianism partly because democracy has been hard won here. But this by no means suggests that Korean politics have gained a mature and sophisticated foothold.

According to a survey, public confidence in the government remains at an abysmal 12 percent. The confidence level in politics undoubtedly could fall far below even that, possibly to the subzero range.

Despite regressive politics, democracy has been upheld in this country because of an intelligent population.

It isn’t because Koreans are particularly politically attentive. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They have grown so sick and disgusted by political absurdities that they go about their daily business and are self-disciplined regardless of what nonsense is displayed on the political stage.

But the people alone cannot safeguard the nation’s well-being in the current cutthroat competitive world environment.

The economic upheaval we have experienced over the last year together with the rest of the world has reinforced the theory that state affairs, including the economy, can run astray in a hands-off, free market system and that sensible state management and political judgment are called for to maintain order.

Amid the growing need for strong political leadership, we can no longer remain indifferent to the mess politicians are making of our democratic system.

The time has come for the public to raise its voice to overhaul the system and force political reform.

A public consensus for sweeping changes in politics cannot succeed when politicians are motivated mostly by self-interest.

The failure of the National Assembly Political Reform Special Committee is a case in point.

A debate to rewrite the Constitution to set a new democratic foundation and operational rules is what our country needs at this stage. The ruling party in its grandiose rhetoric looking beyond the century and the opposition in its knee-jerk filibustering and protests have alike been self-contradictory because they sidestep the call for a constitutional amendment. They must get to the heart of the debate immediately in the coming year.

Few will argue with the idea that our democracy is in critical condition.

The current presidential omnipotence that waters down parliamentary politics and breeds incompetence must be modified.

No advanced state has tolerated the irregularity and recklessness manifested by a weak and impotent legislative branch.

Presidential elections naturally override legislative elections, creating their own paradoxes.

The current division over the function of Sejong City is a byproduct of overheated and overstated presidential politics.

Under the present power imbalance, we inevitably will have to witness the same chaotic scenes in different forms in future presidential elections and administrations.

The deterioration of the legislative process has exposed the fragile roots of the National Assembly.

In principle, it must run both on majority rule and bipartisanship in order to respect the minority opposition and bring order to the house. If we adopt a voting system like that of the U.S. Senate, which requires a three-fifths majority of those present to pass a bill, we may avoid the gridlock over bills that are imperative to pass.

Next year could provide a watershed for the country’s democracy. We might finally shake off legislative impotence and evolve toward a developed parliamentary democracy.

Politicians should lay aside self-interest and excuses and stand in the forefront in calling for discussions on reviewing the Constitution.

Our future is hopeful when the people and politicians both stand robustly together.


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

by Lee Hong-koo

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