Security views matterThe Korean presidential system, with its single five-year term, is greatly admired by many Japanese, who blame feeble leadership by short-lived administrations for their two decades of stagnation and weakened global influence. Japanese prime ministers didn’t last long, often only a year or so. Shinzo Abe has overcome the revolving door tradition in Japanese politics, enjoying monarch-like power — which shows that at the end of the day it’s just not the system but individual capabilities and a level of public support that make the difference.
The disproportionate concentration of power in a president has been blamed for the fall of former President Park Geun-hye and the upheaval the country is going through. Many call for realignment in our governing structure to ensure such a downfall isn’t repeated. But there is little serious talk or deliberation on the merits of a presidential system or the governance or leadership system that led to administrative dysfunction.
Voters and the media should pay extraordinary attention to how to improve the screening of the qualities and leadership capabilities of candidates in order to come to a proper judgment in the upcoming presidential election. North Korea is ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test and is accelerating the development of missiles capable of reaching not only U.S. military bases in Japan but also the U.S. mainland. The U.S. administration under President Donald Trump is publicly floating the idea of a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. A poll shows that seven out of ten South Koreans believe Washington could go ahead with the attack on the North’s nuclear facilities. The next president, therefore, must be clear on defense and security policy.
First of all, our presidential candidates must clarify their position on the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system and on the decades-old alliance. During his visit to East Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Thaad deployment is necessary to ensure the safety of American soldiers in South Korea. The issue could influence the alliance between Seoul and Washington and U.S. policy on its military presence in South Korea.
At the moment, all the candidates vow to tackle our unemployment problem. But they should keep in mind that without stability in national security and removal of geopolitical risks, the economy cannot be revitalized and jobs created. Monetary tightening in the U.S. on top of escalated geopolitical risks could prompt an exodus of foreign capital from South Korea. A president competent in foreign and security affairs can rejuvenate the sagging economy.
Presidential candidates and political parties must present their position on the North Korean nuclear issue, geopolitical risks, and the Korea-U.S. to the people. Our politicians must wonder why the U.S. Congress took bipartisan action ahead of them to criticize China’s apparent retaliations against South Korea over the Thaad decision.
Next, the candidates must be able to specify their plans to normalize the crippled governance system. They must address the problems of bureaucrats who work under ministers without authority over their appointments and fret more about parliamentary hearings than policy-making, while spending most of their time on the road travelling between Sejong City and the National Assembly in Seoul and tending to their work over the phone.
They also must improve the legislative hearing system to confirm nominees for ministerial posts. The hearings, which are mostly aimed at humiliating an individual rather than studying his or her eligibility for senior public office, must be stopped.
Candidates must proclaim that the authority over appointments for senior offices and umbrella public organizations would be handed over to cabinet ministers. They should elaborate on their plans to enhance communication among government offices, with the presidential office and with the media and the public.
The government has to be streamlined. Since many administrative fields are overlapped across the economy, social and cultural areas, the government’s planning and coordination role must be enhanced. The role of deputy prime minister for economic affairs also must be strengthened.
The presidential aspirants all should speak out on their action plans to usher the country towards the fourth industrial revolution and prepare for dramatic changes down the road. Experts believe 65 percent of existing jobs will disappear over the next decade and be replaced by entirely new ones. Such a stunning transition calls for radical reform in education, training and retraining programs, and labor market reforms to allow greater flexibility. They must associate their reform outline on the education and labor markets with their vision to create jobs.
Presidential elections are always important. The next vote to elect a new leader for the country at a time of unprecedented challenges at home and abroad will be a turning point for our future.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 5, Page 28
*The author, a former finance minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.