[Viewpoint] Politics 101 is needed in Korea

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[Viewpoint] Politics 101 is needed in Korea


If we open a world atlas and look up the Korean Peninsula, we find South Korea encircled by some of the world’s military and economic powerhouses. A country cannot move simply because it is not happy with its neighbors. It is where it is as long as planet Earth exists.

A country’s fate relies largely on political leadership.

When the people at the helm sway, a country can lose its course. Argentina has fallen off the trail, and Japan, too, has gone off track because of a lack of leadership in trying to end corruption and factionalism. Brazil, on the other hand, has joined the advanced ranks, thanks to strong leadership.

Look over the map again.

What countries are in most dire need of competent political, military and diplomatic leaders? South Korea, with high security risks, sandwiched among industrial and economic powers, is among the top of the list.

Despite the need, the system to incubate leaders remains underdeveloped and weak.

North Korea and China, which pose security dangers to our country, have systematic programs to groom leaders. Potential leaders are educated and trained at a young age. Leaders from the two nations are shrewd and quick in strategy because they have been thoroughly prepared.

But look at us. Military leaders get training in academies when they reach 20 years of age, and the state has a strategic training program for the military. But diplomats are sorted out through written tests and interviews.

The problem is that the public service exams largely emphasize fairness and stop at merely picking eligible candidates.

The government decided to create a graduate school-level academy to “groom” instead of “select” potential diplomats. However, the budget for diplomats is still too small for a country in dire need of expanding trade opportunities and securing resources from abroad.

The resource pool for politics is far more pitiful, as there is no actual system. Nowhere in the government, political parties, universities and think tanks is there professional training programs to groom and refine political leaders. Politicians learn as they go. The legislature is mocked as an internship institution for political novices.

A politician becomes an expert of sorts by the time he or she serves for more than three terms. But by then, he or she can be 60 years old and pressured by younger lawmakers to retire.

The United States and England have turned out young leaders. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron, who are in their 40s, are an example. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy became presidents in their 40s as well. Ed Miliband, who became Britain’s Labor Party leader, is 41 years old.

Britain is blessed with young political leaders because of schools that help familiarize promising students with politics and elections from a young age. The U.S. also has higher education institutions that focus on public policy, law and management, which help shape eligible politicians.

Political parties in our country fail to foster and educate politicians. Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo said he was impressed by the U.S. Republican Party’s Leadership Institute. He lamented after a tour that his Grand National Party does not have a vision on politics.

What’s more discouraging are the parties’ nomination methods. Parties should give priority to members who were trained and groomed within, but they instead cajole people from nonpolitical circles into running for seats. A politician who was elected for a name value rarely becomes a leader as he or she was neither properly trained nor has the will.

Politics, like many other callings, should provide training from an early age. Presidents Obama and Clinton became leaders in their 40s after serving as a senator and governor, respectively. Former Prime Minister-designate Kim Tae-ho was nominated in his 40s because he started his career in politics at an early age. He was a two-term governor before he became the youngest to be nominated to the prime minister’s post. Elected public posts should be filled by individuals in their 20s, so that public officials are able to become leaders by the time they reach their 40s or 50s.

Politics should be reserved for professionals who have gone through rigorous training. Otherwise, leadership remains insecure. The National Assembly, political parties or universities must establish institutions to foster leaders. States that fail to do so cannot succeed.

*The writer is head of Min Consulting.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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