Can we all get along?

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Can we all get along?

The merging of the candidacies of the two liberal presidential wannabes isn’t the only thing worth concentrating on in life. But since we’re all sucked into this political soap opera, with its never ending episodes fraught with drama, suspense and accusations flying around like spitballs, let’s be a bit adventurous and form a bigger picture in our heads about the reinvention of Korean politics, or the new direction it should be taking.

How about establishing a grand coalition for the sake of the people’s interests instead of the politicians?

This may sound far-fetched. But a month from now a transition team will be launched. Three months later, a new administration will come to power. Isn’t it time that our parties and their candidates should move beyond their preoccupation with single candidacies and other minutia of the presidential election? Particularly the side with the bigger chance of winning. Both the candidates and their support teams should be preparing for the handover of power and the new government. The country’s next leader, who will be governing for the next five years, should already be thinking on the job.

We have been through this all before - the merger of three political parties leading to President Kim Young-sam’s victory and the union of political rivals Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil - and seen the messy fallouts that ensued. What had been unimaginable until then played out before our eyes. We were witnesses to tumultuous and disastrous cohabitation experiments. We were entertained with a brief union and split between candidates Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon.

The deja vu of last-minute talks on a marriage of convenience has emerged in this year’s presidential campaign and we have yet to find out if the two partners will actually wed. If winning through a workable relationship is the idea, why not think about an across-the-board coalition? This shouldn’t be such bizarre for politicians, who are supposed to have the imaginations of artists.

Some could question the feasibility of the idea. This coalition, however, should be different from the one President Roh Moo-hyun proposed in July 2005 in the middle of his term before plunging into an abyssal crisis and lame duck status. At the time, both the ruling and opposition camps were engrossed in an extreme factional struggle to draw as many allies to their camps. Neither ordinary citizens nor the politicians could accept the sincerity of the president’s proposal.

It would be entirely different if a candidate suggests a coalition ahead of - or right after - the election on Dec. 19. At least the idea wouldn’t be attacked as deceitful, collusive or ill-motivated. It could open up a new chapter in our political history by setting a new precedent in which a ruling party and opposition set out to forge a grand coalition - based on the spirit of compromise - on such matters as appointments and policies from the beginning.

Watching the drama over the talks between candidates Moon Jae-in of the main opposition party and independent Ahn Cheol-soo, I begin to daydream about such a grand alliance out of concern that without social unity, the country may not be able to weather the looming storm in its future. Whether the liberal camp succeeds or fails to field a single candidate, and whoever wins, can the next president solve all the problems that cropped up during the general and presidential elections? Can he or she handle our immediate problems as well as those guaranteed in the future?

Few expect that much from the new president. There are more who think it doesn’t matter who becomes president. That is why we need a miracle of compromise, especially because the election is likely to produce a thin margin of victory.

It is impossible to crack the intricately linked problems of jobs, welfare and economic democratization all at the same time without across-the-board compromise. Conglomerates need to initiate reform to prevent authorities from using red tape to choke them, and unreasonable regulations on the chaebol could be harmful to everyone. Unions for permanent workers should make concessions to their temporary colleagues out of a spirit of generosity.

We should all accept that we may have to pay more taxes because we cannot enjoy better social welfare without them. Some less urgent welfare needs will have to be set aside to ensure spending where it is most needed. Welfare increases should come without hurting public finances. These all call for gracious compromise. It may not be easy, but it’s nonetheless essential.

It cannot be easy for presidential hopefuls to make such agreements. But the elected president is in a different position. He or she should find the voice of compromise and work to draw bipartisanship from the legislature. This may not be possible with the opposition thinking their primary work is to attack the ruling party with the goal of stealing power. What is more imperative than constitutional reform and new politics is a joint vision.

During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, there was a feature the JoongAng Ilbo worked on but chucked away. It was a series investigating how advanced countries solved conflicts. We decided the series would be of no use after discovering every one of them backed down after being pushed to the edge. We could not print that the only way to come to unity was to go to the cliff’s edge.

We may not be far from our own. We are already sinking slowly into an abyss of structural collapse. Our young generation is hopelessly staring at a black economic hole. We cannot pull ourselves and the young people up if we do not all yield a little and chip in to the struggle. We’re all in this together. We cannot afford to continue the social conflict and political strife of the last decade. Let us light the spirit of unity instead of protest and bickering.

* The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil
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