Park’s one-way politics can’t last
However, lately the prevailing trend in Korea’s political sphere has been frequent retreat or absence on the president’s part, while major national issues progress or are in desperate need of resolution.
Even on the most critical political issues that divide the country, the president remains silent or stands aside the whole time, only to then express the most basic, transcendental principle or give a disapproving remark, just as a king would announce a proclamation.
Or she just remains silent until the issue has blown over.
Even when some primary policies go against her original promises - for example, economic democratization, basic pension, free child care, half-price tuition, free high school education, insurance coverage for four major illnesses, transparent appointment and abolition of the primary nomination system - she neglects to explain these reasons to the public or ask for consent.
Government documents since the founding of the nation show that Korea’s presidents have long been involved in major issues more deeply than anyone else, regardless of expressing their opinions. In other words, the president’s proclamations, transcendence, negligence and silence are quite intentional. It is the politics of proclamation.
The politics of proclamation is a practice in which a complicated situation is summed up with short, intense words. It has always been Park Geun-hye’s signature style, even before she became president. It’s her tactic to dominate the situation and bring about a breakthrough.
However, the proclamation and faction-oriented politics that she has used to represent her party and her faction, and to defeat her rivals, needs to change into a politics of dialogue and integration now that she has taken the job of chief executive, responsible for Korean citizens and the nation. She has to assume the ethics of responsibility beyond her principles and authority.
President Park may have been the most suitable candidate to pursue reform and integration, as she is not indebted to the vested interests in the course of her election success.
If she had embraced those who had fought for democracy during the industrial era under her father, she could have become the first president that accomplished national integration. That opportunity is still open.
Accomplishing industrialization and democratization in a short period of time inevitably brings social discord, so it’s necessary to relieve some tension. The core is integration of the people.
The president just returned from Germany, where even the systematic power provided by the constitution and the law make concessions for real politics, and shows the world the essence of the politics of dialogue, integration and coalition. The art of integration was expanded to the unification of Germany.
If the president has truly learned from the main points of German politics and reunification, she will find the answer close to her. She should refrain from monopolizing and dominating power and ideology.
Let’s look at a few examples. Just as the rapidly swelling debts and moral hazards of public corporations show, transparent appointments and promotions have long been addressed as a key reason for the need to reform and normalize the public sector, recover public interest and secure autonomy.
Yet, in the Park administration, “parachute appointments” continue. It goes directly against her promise and makes reform impossible. Before and after coming into office, her party and major government agencies continue to lead an ideological debate to divide the nation, placing “parachute” officials even in human rights organizations. She must stop the politics of division.
Since democratization, the international community has highly praised Korea’s efforts to improve human rights and overcome the painful parts of its past, especially the activities of the Constitutional Court, Truth and Reconciliation Committee, National Human Rights Commission and the Democratization Movement Memorial Foundation.
Thanks to their independent and autonomous roles, Korea was able to attain democratization with few punishments or retaliation.
In fact, none of the people responsible for fabricating national security cases during the authoritarian regimes have been punished. As time goes by, the discord between industrialists and democratic fighters will be remembered as “a contemporary illustration,” those who loved the same community.
Tolerance and integration are absolute. The stories of Homer, the Greek poet, are remembered as containing great universal lessons because of the impartiality shown beyond the fight between Achilles and Hector. It is even more important within one community.
The Kim Dae-jung administration’s decision to permit and subsidize the memorial project for Park Chung Hee was met with protests. I asked him how he felt about the controversy after he retired.
He responded, “The president may have a progressive policy and a conservative policy, but there is no such thing as a progressive citizen and a conservative citizen. There is only one people and only one nation. We cannot deny the citizens who supported Park Chung Hee.”
I sincerely wish that President Park can realize the politics of respect, dialogue, coexistence and integration so that she can be remembered not as a conservative president but as a president for the entire nation.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 35
*The author is a professor at Yonsei University.
BY Park Myung-rim