A long road aheadKorean voters will write history today. No matter who it will be, the new president will be different. A presidential election affects the destiny of a country, but it is not an event to elect a ruler. Although a presidential election is often referred as a way of selecting a leader, that isn’t exactly true.
The term “president” was first used at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September 1774, before the United States was established. Delegates from colonies met to discuss the establishment of a governing body, but there was no one to lead the meeting. The delegates selected a leader and called him their president, because he was to preside over the meeting. In the 19th century, Japan started using the title.
The role and prestige of a president are now different. No one considers a president as a presiding leader of a meeting. In Korea, the Constitution particularly guarantees a relatively higher power for the president over the legislature and the judiciary. The president also has emergency powers such as the right to issue an emergency order, propose a constitutional amendment and hold a referendum. Article 66 of the Constitution, therefore, names the president head of state and head of the executive branch.
“Leadership” is used to describe the president’s ultimate powers. In the past, the leadership of a president had no substance. As a result, the relationship between the president and the people became distorted as that between a ruler and the ruled. It was a linguistic trick.
The meaning of “leadership” is now changing. In addition to the traditional newspapers and broadcasters, the monitoring abilities of blogs and social network services have become stronger. Every single move of the president is revealed to the public. Because of the concentrated monitoring and publication, it became hard to keep up the mysterious image of a president.
The lights of a leader are now gone under the cynical views of the public. Today, 73.94 percent of the voters will cast ballots. Already more than 11.07 million voters — or 26.06 percent of the total — have cast their votes. In the unprecedented political climate following a presidential impeachment, candidates weren’t able to compete with policies. They are chanting various slogans such as “dismantlement of old evils,” “political unity” and “conservative reform,” but they just see politics as a game to win.
Even if a candidate shows strong charisma, that is only a means of winning the game. No president is omniscient. A president is not superman. The next president to be elected today will be just a person we can easily see in our lives. Voters just need to delegate the powers to the elected president and monitor if he or she is doing the job properly or not.
The issue is what standards we will use to make the choice. We should study the people around the candidates. A president alone cannot resolve all the complicated problems of state affairs. The Korean peninsula is currently facing a security crisis, an economic crisis and an extreme split in public opinion. We must make sure the people surrounding the candidate are truly responsible. We must also make sure they can give straightforward advice to the president-elect.
Next, we must check if the candidate has the will to create a new path. The era of the imperial president has ended. If the candidate wants to follow this old path, voters must not consider him or her. No voters will cast ballots to elect a small-minded person who will soon be intoxicated by powers and become a ruler.
The ground has no road to begin with. When we walk the same way, a new road is made.
Today will be the day to choose a partner who will talk a new road with us.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 8, Page 28
*The author is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.