Toward responsible changeWhenever I am asked to make a prediction for this year’s presidential election I refrain from answering, as the campaign is not going according to a political science textbook. With the election eight days away, the campaign is still in a muddled state. But at least, the campaign is going in the direction of reconfirming the principles of democratic politics proposed in the textbook. In short, we have been given the opportunity to remind us all how difficult and crucial it is to find a link between civil movement and national administration in a democratic state.
The 2012 presidential election can be summed up as the so-called Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon. There are various in-depth analyses on the unprecedented phenomenon, but the hypothesis that three engines of big change in society made the phenomenon is very convincing. First, as the Korean economy struggles with the global economic crisis, extensive dissatisfaction and anxiety is sweeping Korean society amid the ever-growing income gap between the rich and the poor, economic polarization, sluggish employment, and deepening youth unemployment. Second, the political establishment — including the government, the National Assembly and political parties — has revealed a serious limit on resolving pending issues and become a target of national distrust. Third, the changes among those in their 20s and 30s have not been handled smoothly so the young generation is adrift — socially and culturally. In the swamp of uncertainty and instability, the Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon sparked the desire of the youth for changes.
The problem is that people were disproportionately swept up by the excitement of the presidential election without sufficient understanding or planning to link the engines of change to national administration. As the desire of young people for change was packaged as the “dream for new politics,” the civil movement became a variable in the election. However, the national administration cannot be attained with dreams alone. It is a comprehensive task involving a number of factors about who will manage — and take responsibility for — the national administration and how.
The Constitution established in 1948 defined the standards and procedures on handling the task by declaring that “all powers come from people.” The 1987 constitutional revision clarified that the procedure for getting approval for national authority which is entrusted by the people — through a direct election — is also applied to the presidential election. The amendment made five administrative changes possible through democratic elections, not revolutions.
While the constitutional standards and rules for democratic governance are unequivocally defined, the task of actually making an organic connection between the will of the people and the national authority is one of the most daunting challenges all democratic states share. The solution to the question hinges on, first, how to develop the organization, policy and funding of political parties — the pivotal link to democracy — enough to embody the values of democracy, accountability and utility and, second, how the National Assembly serves as the center of democratic politics and an axis of national administration.
In democratic politics, national administration is a comprehensive art. It is not just about entertainment activities focusing on image and ambience. An ideal model of national administration requires a well-thought out script based on a bigger picture of national vision and strategy, highly skilled directing to please the citizens and the international community, not to mention a group of talented actors in leading and supporting roles and spectacular stage-setting and impressive music.
The civil reform movement of the Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon led by the younger generation, in particular, expanded its influence quickly. It was the timely action of citizens that the Korean democracy needed, and Professor Ahn is no doubt a leader who read the flow of history properly.
However, his experiment of attempting to turn the civil movement into a political group that satisfies all the conditions to oversee national administration simply in a matter of months may have been a leap in logic. Moreover, he refused to become a candidate of the people through pursuing independent reform or a candidate of the nation of the time. He got involved in the conventional political fight between the existing parties that have already lost the trust of most citizens and chose to become an opposition candidate before dropping out of the race. His choice may be remembered as a chapter of regrets in Korean political history. It is a regrettable episode where the privilege of youth to aim for the future was overlooked.
At any rate, the dream of the younger generation seeking new politics will not perish. We need to rush for the future-oriented generational change for the advancement of the nation and the people. The globalization era has arrived, and the older generation — those who harbor obstinacy and resentment of the occupation, division, industrialization and democratization eras — should step aside. We hope the next five years led by a new president elected on Dec. 19 will be the dawn of generational change and Korea’s renaissance.