Challenges from the election

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Challenges from the election

The April 13 general election is over, leaving tricky challenges for the country and its people. No other election could have better avoided discussions of the unprecedented challenges facing the country. They pose a heavy burden on the people who sent a clear message through their votes that things must change. So what are the imperative issues and challenges that concerned the people — and which our politicians shamefully ignored during the last election campaign?

First is the direction of inter-Korean relations, which are on the brink of what a foreign minister of a neighboring country referred to as a flash-point. Yet we heard nothing from the ruling and opposition party candidates about North Korea and inter-Korean ties throughout the campaign. Does that mean they are content with the current status quo and strategy, or think discussions and the public consensus on North Korea are enough?

Second, a majority of the public and the media are in agreement that Korea’s politics and governance system have reached a limit in their efficiency. Most believe the 1987 constitutional system that established a five-year, single-term presidency is no longer viable for the country’s future. But again, this urgent issue went ignored in the latest campaign.

Third, inequalities across Korean society as a result of rapid modernization and industrialization are deepening and broadening more than ever. The 2012 presidential election served as a platform for both the ruling and opposition parties to turn attention to imbalances in the economy. Despite much hype, however, progress has been slow toward fixing it. Yet the most recent election failed to provide a persuasive solution for balancing economic growth and social welfare. It has become imperative for the three-party system in the 20th National Assembly, born in the latest election, to carve out some kind of a solution to the problem. It must answer the public’s demand for change and a breakthrough in the conundrum.

To design a long-term national strategy on inter-Korean relations based on a public consensus, Germany’s successful coalition government could be benchmarked. Germany achieved unification through political solidarity from a grand coalition among the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Free Democratic Party (FDP). Unification was led by CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but could not have happened without help from SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt and Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Hans-Dietrich Genscher of the FDP. Each of the three major parties of the 20th National Assembly in Korea need to field two to three representatives in a policy consultation group and establish a tradition of working closely with the president and government in mapping out a policy toward unification.

The 1987 constitutional reform was a turning point in the country’s democratization by institutionalizing a single-term presidency and direct election to preclude the possibility of another dictatorship. But it has outlived its purpose and instead undermined the efficacy of representative democracy. By next year, the constitution will be 30 years old, producing six presidents. Constitutional rewriting should not be further delayed.

The 20th Assembly will be a legislature serving in an emergency rather than normal times. It must form a special committee on constitutional reform as soon as it begins its term. Studies have already been made. They should hold hearings to gauge public opinion and take steps toward amendments. The leadership for these reforms to advance Korean democracy should come from the president. The president could share with the people the rewards of achieving historical reforms for the country, along with economic progress.

The work of fixing inequalities and imbalances in the economy is only possible by using the efforts and wisdom of all the people. Religious leaders worried about dehumanization and ill effects from industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s. What was lacking was not will but wisdom — especially from politicians and intellectuals. The people are eagerly waiting for a clear outline and feasible action plan for a new growth model in balance with broader social security. Leaders must provide the wisdom to muster the will of the people.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 31

*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Hong-koo
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