[VIEWPOINT] The need for competent opposition

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[VIEWPOINT] The need for competent opposition

We had a heavy snowfall over the weekend. How nice it would have been if the National Assembly had no roof so that the snow would have blanketed the rioting lawmakers. They could have looked up in search of what’s beyond the layers of white flakes. The snow could have whetted their thirst, seeped into their callous hearts and melted away their intransigence.

Like the father waiting for his prodigal runaway son, our society’s heart is heavy with worries over the main opposition party.

The opposition should be reliable and competent to keep the government in check and on its toes. The opposition had historically served as the motivator and monitor.

The opposition party had been instrumental in bringing down decades of autocratic rule, finally paving the way for democratic power transfer in 1987. In 1988, President Roh Tae-woo, the last successor of the military legacy, took office, but the power rested largely with the Party for Peace and Democracy led by dissident Kim Dae-jung.

Under the administration of once opposition leader and pro-democracy activist Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung’s opposition built broad electoral support, finally realizing the first-ever reversal of power from the party in opposition to the ruling party.

The opposition party led by Park Geun-hye upheld its conservative identity and moderated the excessively progressive actions of the liberal administration of President Roh Moo-hyun. The opposition has had as much a share in making Korean history as the government.

The opposition in the current term have hitherto fallen short of living up to their role. They were massively defeated in presidential and parliamentary elections and yet refused to act humbly. They opposed, protested and filibustered. They fought and cried their lungs out for what they claimed was for the sake of the people. They opposed imports of cheap American beef even if the imports could help make beef more affordable. They roused and stood at the forefront of rallies. Then they resisted a new media bill allowing flexibility and greater choices in the market. They turned the assembly into a refugee camp. A former justice minister raided the house speaker’s chambers.

A new decade is just around the corner.

Yet the Democratic Party is locked in a feudal hermit kingdom. Their members have caged themselves in, parroting hollow protest cries. The party championed the dispatch of troops in support of U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan when it ruled in the previous administrations. Yet they now are opposed to a new troop dispatch to Afghanistan.

The ongoing Afghan war is aimed at containing and destroying the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The terrorist organization is still active and poses a threat to the global population, including Koreans. But the DP is opposed for the sake of opposition.

The party vehemently contests the four-river project. It has occupied the assembly conference room for weeks now, holding the budget bill hostage.

The Yeongsan River, the first among the four to benefit from spending, cuts through South Jeolla, the DP’s political birthplace.

The water there is so contaminated that it cannot even be used for farming. The past two administrations that gained power largely because of regional voters should be blamed for neglecting the state of the river in their own backyard.

The plan is to build reservoirs and purify water standards to a drinkable-after-boiling level. The regional mayors welcomed the plan, but their party stands firmly opposed.

The president repeatedly assures that the river cleaning work has no connection with the canal project he abandoned. A canal would need a tunnel between the Han and Nakdong rivers. There is not a penny appropriated for that purpose. Yet the DP insists it is part of the canal project.

If the river project was being used to impose an authoritarian rule, the opposition should of course block it with all its strength. But it is not such a project.

The opposition should realize that containment could prove to be the more effective approach. It can approve the spending but keep close watch on the progress of the project through government questioning and monitoring in collaboration with civilian groups.

If construction safety and contamination are what they are worried about, they can demand reservoirs be tested on other rivers before Yeongsan.

The current administration isn’t doing all that well. Public companies remain corrupt, profligacy in spending is conspicuous here and there and policies to address unemployment are too sketchy. The main opposition must return to its duty of keeping an eye on the government by putting practicality and public interest before self-serving ideology.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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