Losing the art of compromise
We often say that history is a dialogue between past and present, especially when problems of the present are not resolved easily. We need lessons of the past to resolve today’s issues and reach tomorrow’s vision. On the 70th anniversary of the liberation this year, Koreans mentioned “dialogue with the past” more often.
However, it was doubtful whether the clues to resolutions were found in dialogues with the past. This year reminds of a Kafkaesque situation. One side is pushing forward from the back, but the other side blocks from the front and pushes back through the year. While politicians should be fighting over the future, there hasn’t been a year when politicians got engulfed in the fights over the past like this year.
Of course, it may be a transitional phenomenon as politics haven’t caught up with changing times. Unlike the industrialization period, it is not easy to find solutions to problems in the globalization and information era. However, politics need to resolve today’s issues and seek tomorrow’s path from dialogues with the past in this crucial time.
Former president Kim Young-sam who passed away recently used to write “Integration” and “Unity” in calligraphy in his sickbed. The ultimate goal of politics is integration. But the premise of political integration is social and political discords. So there are always disputes over who will take charge of political integration, the procedure, method and ideologies in the course of integration.
Until now, we have resolved the issue of power legitimacy through democratization. So we overcame the fundamental vulnerability of political integration maintained by high-handedness of power. However, political discords over procedure, method and ideology still continue.
At this juncture, former president Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam’s legacies are highlighted. People are seeking solutions to today’s problems from dialogues with their periods. They had their own issues during their times. But even when Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam had disagreements, they displayed leadership in reaching a compromise to overcome catastrophic political results. How about today? Compromise has long been absent between the ruling and opposition parties. And they are clashing over immediate interests. Look at the confrontations between the pro-Park and those who don’t support Park, and the pro-Roh Moo-hyun and anti-Roh faction. They are turning the political stage into a battlefield to eliminate enemies, not a ground for compromise.
Lately, people often ask me if democratic politics is possible without political parties, and if so, how. They are the people who used to have hopes for political reform and party reform until recently. However, now they are skeptical of party politics itself. So they ask if democracy is possible when the state takes sole charge without political parties and the National Assembly. They are distrustful of parties and the legislature. This is a serious concern. However, democratic governance is only possible when power and opposition are in balance. The power needs to be strong enough to rule, but not too strong to be abused. But the balance is collapsing now.
Real politics is a product of negotiation and compromise. So people want to see the Blue House and the National Assembly negotiating and compromising. But look at the contest between the president and the Speaker of the Assembly. Compromise is nowhere to be found as the president treats anyone who opposes her position as an enemy. After Park sparked controversy over “truthful person,” she threatened that the assembly will be “judged by history.” The media is distrustful of the National Assembly. But Korea’s assembly seems to be better than the U.S. Congress, which rejected the budget plan and paralyzed the government. There is still room for compromise and negotiation.
The Blue House asks what’s wrong with the president pressuring the assembly for the citizens. But no matter how good the intention is, we must not ignore that abuse of power could be tempting. What we are concerned about is not the ambitious exercise of power by the president. What’s more worrying is the Blue House’s totalitarian behavior in crushing the entities that can check the president, such as the National Assembly and political parties.
This is an ominous sign for the democratic politics. It may lead to politics without political parties and National Assembly. For the future of democratic politics, we need to learn lessons from the
wisdom and dilemma of the 1987 constitution.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 26, Page 31
*The author is a professor emeritus of political science at Seoul National University.
by Chang Dal-joong