[Viewpoint] Seeking a mature political process

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[Viewpoint] Seeking a mature political process

The ruling party unilaterally passed the necessary budget bill for 2010 at the National Assembly just hours before the New Year.

There were the usual shoving and shouting matches, but fortunately the push to pass the bill did not culminate in a violent clash as happened a year ago. But the damage has been done, hardening bitter feelings and mutual mistrust on the political front.

The economy is showing signs of thawing and is expected to pick up, although consumers have yet to feel the recovery. The political outlook, however, remains as tumultuous as ever. Few harbor the expectations and hopes that sprouted with the birth of the new administration and legislature. They have been replaced by frustration and annoyance following constant fighting and gridlock at the National Assembly.

President Lee Myung-bak’s hand in landing the country’s historical overseas nuclear reactor project on the sidelines of his public-friendly policy campaign helped to boost public confidence. But it’s too bad that the president has failed to use some of his negotiation skills with politicians to bring about a breakthrough in domestic affairs.

We are in the calm before the next political tempest over the Sejong City project. We are also in for rancor over the gubernatorial elections slated for later this year, starting with heated nomination contests. The race for the next president will also kick off, adding to disarray in the political arena. It is unknown if politicians will have leeway in the latter half of the year to contemplate pending issues, such as a Constitutional amendment, and the realignment of administrative and electoral districts that they bypassed last year.

Politicians are in for a cutthroat contest this year. They will likely coalesce behind their teammates as they cannot afford to lose their constituencies. All their political maneuvering and decisions will serve to extend their political lives and influence. The political field will turn ugly, which is likely to hamper state administration in the process.

We cannot sit back and let this happen. Elections procedures have matured and voters enjoy greater choices and freedom, but politics is one area that remains antiquated, intransigent and underdeveloped, often resorting to violence and force instead of dialogue. Our democracy can only backtrack if selfishness in politics continues to prevail.

Our politicians go all out to triumph in elections, but once they win, they suddenly lose interest and passion. Efficacy and responsibility are often thrown out the window. They strive to win for interests of their own and not for the voters or the country. Politicking for public interest is not in their book.

Politicians in the central headquarters have the wrong idea that they know better and should meddle in regional affairs. If they put their party’s interests above those of regional voters in the upcoming gubernatorial elections, they will be placing the country’s democracy in reverse.

Politics is practiced by different groups contending for power. In an underdeveloped society, there is only power struggle and little debate over policies. The ruling party forces its power while the minority parties protest desperately. In a more mature society, political rivals contest and compete through reasonable means. In competitions, the rivals respect one another, leaving room for cooperation and alliances, obeying the rules and accepting the results.

To realize a mature society, the ruling and opposing groups must engage in competition instead of struggle. Rivals should respect and learn from the merits of their opponents.

There is a lot that incumbents can learn from past administrations. The Kim Dae-jung government built and strengthened the social safety net amid rising joblessness. The Roh Moo-hyun administration eliminated bureaucracy and paved the way for ordinary people to speak their minds and join politics. Whether it is conservative or liberal, a wise government should note and develop the successful policies of past governments.

This year will be equally challenging on the political front. But it is too early to be disappointed. Korean politics has displayed unexpected dynamism in the past and may possibly move forward in search of more balance this year.

*The writer is a professor of politics at Seoul National University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Chan-wook
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