Keep the continuity flowingOn the morning after her victory in the Dec. 19 election, President-elect Park Geun-hye went to the National Cemetery and paid respects to three past presidents - Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae-jung - to send a symbolic message. She wanted to underscore her campaign slogan on social unity and at the same time demonstrate her will to maintain continuity in the Korean government.
While uniting the people in times of polarization and division is a significant step for a leader to take, maintaining the continuity of government policies can ensure state legitimacy and stability beyond the president’s tenure. But it is not an easy task for a leader to pursue social unity as well as continuity in the government while coming up with new approaches and actions to cope with various challenges, changes and tests at home and abroad.
The fissures and conflicts in Korean politics may appear bigger than they actually are. Even when the power has been shifted from conservatives to liberals several times since direct presidential elections in the late 1980s, some major government policies have outlived power shifts over the decades despite the ideological leanings of the current government. The “national community unification program,” a comprehensive blueprint for reunification with North Korea since it was first mapped out through consultation with the public and the legislature in 1989, was respected as the basic formula for unification by five presidents - Roh Tae-woo, Kim Youg-sam, Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak.
The basic principle is that the two state regimes will separately exist on the Korea Peninsula, but South and North Korea will endeavor to restore unity in the community for peaceful co-existence. The reconciliatory overture led to the landmark joint entry of the two Koreas to the United Nations, the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement and the joint declaration on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Regardless of the fact that North Korea has alarmingly escalated tensions on the peninsula due to its obsession with its nuclear weapons program, the formula - based on mutual recognition - remains more persuasive than the twostate solution prescribed for Israel and Palestine for peace in the Middle East.
President Lee Myung-bak, who brought the conservatives back to power for the first time in a decade with a 5 million vote gap, demonstrated a strong will to maintain both the continuity and legitimacies of government policies by trying to carry out the inherited policies of the preceding Roh Moo-hyun government - despite the difficulties involved.