Black hole of national governance
The government defied public opinion and advanced its plan to reinstate state authority to write and publish universal history textbooks for middle and high schools. It had said earlier that it would listen to feedback and announce a final decision on Thursday. By skipping the procedures, the government raises suspicions of attempting to railroad the plan through, no matter how strong the political and public opposition.
The government insisted that it gauged public opinion - mostly through post and fax, instead of the Internet. It made the announcement the day the National Assembly general assembly was scheduled to open - probably to avoid a clash at the legislature.
Unsurprisingly, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) boycotted all legislative work and pledged to overturn the plan. The ideological fight over history textbooks has overridden all state and legislative affairs. But Korea cannot afford to push back the budget and other bill reviews.
Youth unemployment has hit an all-time high, and industry overall is fast losing competitiveness amid an aging society. Exports fell throughout the year, losing the most ground in October. The economy urgently needs relief. Labor, financial, public sector and education reforms must be accelerated, and bills to support a free trade agreement with China need to be reviewed. The government and rival political parties must set their priorities straight.
To appease public concerns over the planned history textbooks, the government must be transparent throughout the publication procedures. Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea said drafts of each chapter will be posted online to receive public approval.
The state-authored books are to be completed by next December for distribution during the school year that starts March 2017. Many doubt whether quality textbooks can be ready in such short time. The Saenuri Party should stop making ideological arguments and instead work with the government to reflect as much public opinion as possible in the new school books.
The opposition’s role is also critical. It is fully entitled to criticize the government, but it must not neglect its primary lawmaking work. The NPAD must cooperate on economy-related issues while continuing its fight over the history book issue.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 4, Page 34