A historic junctureCritical juncture is a decisive moment at which the god of history differentiates the fraying, established power from the new force of the future. Korea is at the critical juncture of its democracy as a million candles are lit in front of Gwanghwamun and City Hall. Three decades ago, the people started democratization with their protests at the plazas to end the authoritarian rule in June 1987. And the people are gathering at the same places again to restore democracy.
The public rage goes far beyond the reality that a middle-age woman, who holds no public office, manipulated the Blue House, administration and conglomerates and violated the basic order of democracy and the least common sense. If all we feel are anger and disappointment, there is no bright future. But the people are holding candles with heated, and yet calm attitudes and exchanging warm eye contact with the strangers next to them at the rallies. Through this alliance, the people gravely demand a restoration of democracy.
Ending President Park Geun-hye’s presidency and amending the constitution to introduce a new governing system are important, but they are not the ultimate issues. What the people truly want is a new form of civic politics and political platform that go beyond the representative democracy of the 20th century in order to allow continuous exchange and communication between the representative system and the general will of the people.
Although the people demand a new platform to reflect their general will, the obsolete political class, desperate to protect their remaining established rights, fail to see it. In fact, they are trying to hide behind the Blue House’s stalling tactics and the ruling and opposition parties’ strategy to avoid the reality. The Blue House aides and some Park loyalists appeared to have started their strategy to buy more time. They will wait for the candlelight protests to calm down and try to avoid the worst possible scenario while the opposition parties are bickering.
But this stalling strategy is lame, inappropriate and dangerous. Most of all, the people’s will won’t be calmed easily. If they are mobs who fail to control their rage and excitement, the protests may not go on for long. But the rallies are not organized by professional demonstrators; the participants are people who walked and rode buses for hours from around the country to protest. It is an expression of the sense of ownership that they suppressed a long time, and it won’t disappear easily. The people, who even endured worsening youth employment and a widening wealth gap for years, are now filling downtown Seoul every weekend and this shows the strength of their will to restore and renew our democracy.
And the core of the evasive tactics, attempted by the ruling and opposition parties and the National Assembly, will lead to a constitutional amendment to introduce a new governing system. They want to frame the grand failure of the Park administration as the failure of the presidential system. They, therefore, argue that the current system, which gives enormous power to the president, must be changed to a cabinet system or a semi-presidential system to prevent a recurrence of a similar failure.
But the people who are pushing the amendment are mostly lawmakers, and this shows the impure and regressive essence of the argument. No matter what they call the new system, the key is moving the center of the power from the Blue House to the National Assembly. Is the National Assembly truly transparent, open and capable of communicating so that it won’t repeat the failure of the
president or the presidential system?
The essence of our crisis is not limited to the failure of the president and the presidential system. It is the failure of our entire system that was incapable of detecting and controlling the incomprehensible and repeated manipulation of power from behind the curtain. The current crisis is beyond the failure of the presidential system; it is the failure of the organization and procedure of the administration, which has enormous resources but acted as a puppet. It is also the failure of the media, non-governmental groups and experts who were supposed to check the government.
In the face of this crisis, the rational and peaceful candle lights may turn into larger flames unless the politicians including the ruling and opposition parties present a civic political platform in which the people’s wills are communicated. The current attempts to form an emergency council are not enough.
We are facing a historic experiment. We may head to a grand chaos in which the entire political basis of the established forces will crumble or down a path for a new political platform on which the civic political culture and the established politicians will cooperate. Will we be able to meet a new force for the future and a new leader for the future at this critical juncture? Will we be able to meet a future leader from the established politicians marred with confusions, misjudgments and obstinacy?
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 31
*The author is a political science professor of Chung-Ang University.