[Viewpoint] A party-less reformer?

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[Viewpoint] A party-less reformer?

The most fundamental problem the world is experiencing today is the failure of systems. In the last three decades, waves of globalization have spread all over the planet. Meanwhile, the form of the nation-state and the political systems that run it are virtually the same as the Treaty of Westphalia defined the structure of a sovereign state in the 17th century. While borders have disappeared in the flows of goods, services, capital and human resources, policies and political systems are confined within the boundaries of individual nations.

The flow of capital has integrated the entire world into one financial market, but a global central bank or global financial supervisory agency have not arisen. This discrepancy resulted in the global financial crisis and continues to cause economic instability. Therefore, the world is demanding the implementation of an entirely new system.

The fundamental cause of the European economic crisis is the integration of a currency without the integration of the financial system as a whole. Countries agreed to use the same currency, but individual countries adhered to their own financial policies as sovereign states. Now, the market is demanding the members of the euro zone to choose between financial integration and abandonment of a unified currency. The market also calls for the establishment of a global central bank and supervisory agency or for limits on the flow of capital.

Since the global financial crisis, the world has been responding by trying to slow down the movements of the market. Regulations on capital and finance were strengthened, and Europe has said that a withdrawal from the euro zone is allowable, a move which might be inevitable for some countries. However, these are not fundamental solutions. History has shown that the power of the market will ultimately triumph.

Nowadays, people in every country desire a new role for the nation and a whole new social and economic system. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, a strong state and big government satisfied the demands for more welfare for the people, but they failed to expand the size of the overall economic pie. (That only happened with World War II and its aftermath.) The waves of neoliberalism, which emerged in the 1970s, encouraged competition and revitalized economies, but at the same time, they aggravated the wealth gap and increased economic volatility. People no longer trust big government or market mechanisms as solutions and have begun to seek out a new system.

The desire for a new system and disappointment with existing politics were reflected in the phenomenal rise of Ahn Cheol-soo, a doctor-turned-software mogul and dean of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology. While the lasting strength of the Ahn phenomenon is not yet clear, people were obviously turned on by someone new, young and independent - someone from outside the status quo.

But is the Ahn phenomenon the way forward? Unless Koreans hope for a revolution, the introduction of a new system is only possible through the political parties and the National Assembly, under the system of a representative democracy.

But recent events show that, as it stands now, our democracy cannot always meet the demands of the public. The scheduling of the Seoul mayoral by-election, prompted by former mayor Oh Se-hoon’s resignation, marked the beginning of Ahn’s rise and, with him, the rejection of existing politics he represents. Oh resigned after losing the referendum on school lunches, which he was forced to hold after the opposition-dominated Seoul Metropolitan Council rejected his lunch proposal. Party politics led to his defeat.

This shows that a leader can only implement his vision into a new system when the party of his affiliation has the majority and supports him consistently. Therefore, the real message of the Ahn phenomenon is the need for party reform. Parties in Korea have complacently relied on the regional vote instead of advocating on policies or values and have failed to attract competent new talent.

A leader who can govern the country properly under the administrative structure of a democratic country must be willing to pursue reform but also has to be a politician who can survive a long career in party politics while sharing values, an ideology and a vision with fellow party members.

Those who aspire to be the leader of the country to bring about reforms, whether it is Ahn or anyone else, need to join political parties and promote their values to the public. So, political parties in Korea must reform their ways and start attracting new talent.

*Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

By Cho Yoon-je
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