[Viewpoint] Advice for our new assemblymen

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[Viewpoint] Advice for our new assemblymen

“You have been elected a member of the 19th National Assembly, and you are presented with a certificate of election.” A man or woman who has won a legislative seat might find this an anticlimax after the first win and every successive one. The certificate from the National Election Commission couldn’t be simpler, more straightforward or less emotional.

Victors in yesterday’s general election, however, shouldn’t be disappointed. Without any exaggeration, the history of the National Assembly will now be categorized either pre-19th assembly or post-19th assembly. Before its first session, it has already made scored records “for the first time in the history of Constitution” in many areas.

As has been widely publicized, it has the highest number of representatives. There will be 300 members in the National Assembly. The gold badge is the symbol of a lawmaker, and it is made of 95 percent silver and 4.5 percent gold. The cost of making the badge is the highest in history, thanks to skyrocketing gold and silver prices. The badges to be distributed to the 19th National Assembly members will be 80 percent more expensive than those of their predecessors.

If you think space reflects power, the new representatives will be 80 percent more powerful than their predecessors. The office space allocated to each member of the 18th National Assembly was 82.5 square meters (270 feet). That has been expanded to 148.5 square meters. The representative’s personal office space has increased by 7.9 square meters, and the space for the secretaries and staff has more than doubled. The sparsely populated new offices will surely remind representatives that creating jobs for young people is a major need in the country. They may want to add a few more jobs to the current staff of nine including interns.

But we all know how powerful a lawmaker can be. The ranking of National Assembly members comes after the president and the 16 heads of metropolitan governments, but experience has taught us that the lawmakers have more substantial powers.

People may criticize them behind their backs, but not many would dare confront them in person. On the rare occasion a representative is attacked in person, the best response is, “Are you insulting a representative of the voters?” The administrative branch is the agency that executes the laws made by them. Usually the government will be attacked instead of lawmakers. Even when a law is undeniably faulty, people tend to blame the government, not the National Assembly.

Everything in life has its pros and cons, and the position of an assemblyman has a critical flaw: a built-in lack of job security. Since the 13th National Assembly and including yesterday’s, about 40 to 60 percent of elected representatives are first-time lawmakers. That means about half have failed to get themselves re-elected.

Standards and political issues constantly change, so there may not be an airtight strategy to avoid being thrown out of seat.

Four years ago, candidates thought that caring for their electoral districts was the key. In retrospect, the tack was not very effective. The opposition always uses the slogan that the people should render their judgments on the current administration, but that doesn’t always work. It was the strategy-of-choice in 2008, the first year of the Lee Myung-bak administration, and it is likely to be used again in 2016. Representatives may want to plan a strategy for the next election based on experience from this year’s campaign. But it could give little more than psychological comfort as they won’t find a correlation between their election prospects and campaign strategy.

Thee best bet for representatives is to do their jobs as lawmakers dutifully. It’s the same reasoning that if you want to get into a good school you have to study hard. My advice is to be sincere and work for the future. In the process, keep in mind what Max Weber said: “Ultimately there are only two kinds of deadly sins in the field of politics: lack of objectivity and - often but not always identical with it - irresponsibility. Vanity, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible, strongly tempts the politicians to commit one or both of these two sins.”

You may wonder what relevance Max Weber has since he had lost an election 100 years ago. Yet even modern political consultants give the same advice. Park Sung-min said that politicians need to be constantly aware of not only good intentions but also the responsibility for good results. Don’t make promises like, “I will increase the number of green lights.” If one side gets a green light, the other side gets a red. Fancy promises may lack any kind of realistic impact.

You may think these pieces of advice are too abstract. There is one suggestion that can be put into practice right away. This simple secret will at least guarantee that you are doing better than those in the 18th National Assembly: Never use foul or violent language.

*The author is deputy editor of political and international news of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Ko Jung-ae
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