Cooperative governance neededThe April 13 general election brought back the three-party system to the legislature, while the conservative ruling party was largely outnumbered by the liberal opposition parties. Under this condition, discussions are actively ongoing that the country needs cooperative governance. The media demands talks between the president and the ruling and opposition parties and politics of compromise, and the politicians, in return, made the promise of cooperation and mutual survival. Reports were made that reformist politicians are forming a group to overhaul the Blue House and the ruling and opposition parties. A plan to form a consultative body among the ruling and opposition parties and the government for corporate restructuring is also floated. The experiment of Gyeonggi Governor Nam Kyung-pil, who formed a coalition government with the opposition since 2014, was made public, while a column argued that the North Korea’s security threat should be dealt with cooperation among the ruling and opposition parties.
As a scholar of cooperative governance, I am more than thrilled to see it becoming a topic in the Korean politics. I thought it was necessary for the academia to have an in-depth research on the real politics, particularly cooperative governance, which has become a universal political paradigm of the 21st century. But cooperative governance does not mean communication and cooperation among only politicians.
Governance means actual participation by ordinary citizens and non-governmental and non-state actors and their cooperation with the government on the equal level. Governance means a change from the state-led politics of submission to the politics of governing jointly done by the civilian community and the government.
Furthermore, it seeks a change from representative politics, where the people’s political participation is actually limited to occasional voting, to autonomous politics, where the people actively participate in the decision-making and problem-solving processes of the central government, provincial and city governments and their villages.
The goal was desired after the people experienced structural and macroscopic changes such as limit of the state capability, a crisis of the representative system and appearance of critical and participatory citizens in era of globalization, democratization, informatization and complex risks. In other words, the government-led ruling should be changed to governance mainly by the civic society.
It is also the political paradigm in the Sustainable Development Goals announced by the United Nations in September last year. The final two goals among the 17 goals stressed that the participation and cooperation of all interested parties, not only the states but also non-state actors, are crucial for sustainable development, stressing the politics of governance.
British Prime Minister David Cameron established the Office of Civil Society and pushed forward the “Big Society” policy and U.S. President Barack Obama signed the volunteers bill and established the office in the Blue House for social innovation and civil participation. The efforts all have their roots in the governance paradigm.
In the academia, researches on governance are also booming. According to the respectable citation index, the number of papers on governance has continuously gone up. In the late 2000, it surpassed the number of papers on “government.” Governance paradigm is spreading from the United Nations to state affairs of major companies and to the trend of global political science community.
In Korea, governance is no longer an unfamiliar term. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is a civic activist, and the city’s basic direction of administration is the cooperative governance. South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung is also prompting governance. Seongbuk District, where I am currently residing, is also pushing forward various resident participation governance policies under the title of village democracy. Civil politics can be found in various areas.
That does not mean that governance is the opposition parties’ trademark. Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong, a Saenuri member, has set cooperative governance as the first principle of the provincial government. Gyeonggi Governor Nam experimented with a coalition with the opposition and introduced civil participation. Governance is also more than a regional political model. From the Roh Moo-hyun administration to the current administration, the central government conducted various experiments and presented ideas. Governance is our business, and it has spread to the central government.
Let’s go back to where we stand after the April 13 general election. The cooperative governance understood by the president and the Blue House means that they had no choice but to cooperate with the National Assembly now that the ruling party is outnumbered by the opposition. Attempts to communicate and persuade the public are no different from official announcements of the government positions.
Contact with the civil society was limited to the president’s brief meetings last week with the Saemaul Movement leaders and members of the national team for the Abilympics. Shockingly, they were used to appeal to the public the need for labor reform. Meanwhile, the Blue House faced a suspicion that it had masterminded the rallies of the conservative Korea Parent Federation. The expectation was high for the president’s meeting with chief editors of major news media, but it brought about more concerns.
Although politicians are prompting cooperative governance enthusiastically, it is just a slogan. There seems to be no idea such as reforming political parties with the grass-root civic network. In fact, they are talking about more political engineering aimed at the next presidential election, such as forming a coalition government.
Is this really governance? Will the voters restore their faith? Talks and cooperation among the politicians are important, but the citizens are no where to find in the current discussion of cooperative governance.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 29
*The author is a professor of political science and international relations at the Seoul National University
by Kim Eui-young