[Viewpoint] Calling for mature politicking

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[Viewpoint] Calling for mature politicking

Uncomfortable and dreaded scenes are unfolding before our eyes. They are the gruesome symptoms that commonly appear during the tail end of a government’s term. Consumers who lost their precious savings at corrupt savings banks, passengers nervy of frequent breakdowns of high-speed KTX railway, students sitting in the heat to protest sky-high university tuitions and hard-working ordinary citizens downhearted by news of golden parachutes and corruption of high-level bureaucrats are all victims of the indiscreet oddities of the powerful and elite.

The Lee Myung-bak government, which made all kinds of rosy promises, is now shunned as the boy who cried wolf. A public disillusioned by past ideology-led governments has turned equally cold to the conservative government that prided itself on being pragmatic

We were promised better living standards, affordable houses, the chance to eat out more, and clean water after completion of the four-rivers restoration project. But instead we were ambushed with skyrocketing inflation, snowballing consumer debt and a rent crisis.

Some warn that these are the ominous signs of Korea Inc. sinking. We may be at the crossroads of heading for a fall. Despite the reality we face, policy makers and politicians are busy wrangling and blaming one another for losing direction. The ruling party wants to distance itself from the government to save itself.

But both the ruling party and government are heading for joint self-destruction, wreaking havoc on the governance and society if they continue to point fingers at each other to dodge responsibility. If the ruling party feels betrayed by the Blue House, it must take a firm stand.

Newly-elected Grand National Party floor-leader Hwang Woo-yea said he plans to undo the negligence in governance oversight by talking bluntly to the Blue House. He may have meant that the ruling party will even dare straining ties with the Blue House to keep it on a track of better, or more popular, governance.

But his outspokenness returned as a hollow echo. Hwang ended up making the ruling party look cowardly and opportunistic for placing all the blame for failures on the Blue House, and his internal power struggle wasn’t pretty.

The opposition camp is no better. It acts like a self-conscious loser. The public no longer throws it support or votes for it purely on sympathy or pity. If it doesn’t present an alternative approach to governance for the sake of national interests, it cannot win back the hearts of voters. The abnormalities we see today came up five years ago and a decade ago when the opposition was in power. Yet the opposition is still divided over control.

Democratic politics aim to solve problems and disputes. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who served as special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, once said the essence of democratic politics is pursuing a cure. Politicking for a cure is imperative with chronic sickness permeating throughout our politics. Yet few appear to be interested in seeking a cure. Without awareness of the gravity of their illness, politicians are absorbed in winning next year’s elections.

Votes serve as a yardstick for addressing controversial issues, like making over-the-counter drugs available outside pharmacies. We can hardly expect a reliable cure from such a motive. Policies that need to be approached from the perspective of national interests have become mere campaign instruments.

The signs bode badly for next year’s elections: general elections in April and the presidential election in December. Instead of a debate on a vision for the future, candidates will likely be up to their armpits in a campaign of nonstop slander. We cannot afford the luxury of such pettyness given the pile of issues we must address to reshape the country’s foundation.

Governance in a democracy is impossible without political compromise. We call for mature politicking from our politicians. Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties may finally be meeting. We hope the meeting can serve as a tipping point for politics of maturity and compromise to seek the right cures.

*The writer is professor of political science at Seoul National University.

By Chang Dal-joong
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