The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
In the tumultuous history of the National Assembly, it may never have been worse. The legislature has already hit rock bottom several times as it never has before. The ruling Democratic Party, with 176 seats in the 300-member Assembly, dominates all the committee chairs and skipped subcommittee reviews and other legitimate procedures. It skipped customary consultation with the opposition when processing bills. Even though the full name of the party is the Together Democratic Party, there is no “together” or anything “democratic” about it. Its words and actions always go separate ways.
Even under our military regimes, the ruling party tried to avoid ramming through laws on its own. But the DP doesn’t find any problem with passing bills without going through related committees. What baffled me most was that it required going through subcommittees and standing committees in the National Assembly Act that the DP had motioned. Bills whose details were not shown to the opposition party were processed as emergency acts were passed during the Park Chung Hee era.
This is not the first time for the ruling party to show overbearing attitudes. President Moon Jae-in asked for cooperation in governance in the new National Assembly after the DP’s landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections. But he appointed Park Ji-won — a controversial politician and former Blue House chief of staff in the Kim Dae-jung administration — as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) based on a confirmation hearing report by the ruling party. 25 ministerial-level officials were appointed despite strong objections from the main opposition United Future Party (UFP). The opposition party demanded 10 witnesses and testifiers in confirmation hearings, but none appeared. I don’t know why confirmation hearings are held. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae mockingly rebuked an opposition lawmaker for asking “irrelevant questions.” After the UFP criticized her arrogance, she refused to apologize. Things are getting out of control.
President Moon said multiple times that he was confident about real estate. The real estate bills pushed by the DP only add tax burdens on the people. Have the controversial bills controlled soaring housing prices? Definitely not. Otherwise, there was no reason to bring up the issue of relocating the capital to Sejong City. A contested bill was also proposed to weaken the NIS and the prosecution to shift some of its power to the police. Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, whose two-year term is guaranteed by law, was nearly disarmed before mounting pressure from the administration. How can the National Police Agency commissioner — whose term is not guaranteed and with no political neutrality device — conduct investigations on powers with any sort of conviction? The prosecutor general even mentioned it was “dictatorship disguised as democracy.”
Politics always have some lies mixed in, as politicians need to sell something to voters. But if empty words and reckless administration become habits, people won’t believe even the truth. That’s how our politics are now. Questioning the state of the country after taking office three years ago, Moon pledged he would serve each and every citizen, including those who didn’t vote for him. Has the country changed? If everyone agrees, no one would raise their voice and throw a shoe at the president, condemning whether the country really belonged to a certain person. If the country has really changed in a better direction, there is no reason for ordinary citizens to drink and toast, ridiculing the president and the government.
I don’t think dictatorship is returning and democracy is shaken to the root, as seen in the Park Chung Hee era. But democracy does not transform into dictatorship only by a military coup. It is true that some people fall into collective helplessness watching the government’s incompetence and double standards of the ruling party. The National Assembly was created in the course of resisting the power holder who would not listen to the opinions of taxpayers and imposed excessive taxes. Turning the National Assembly into a law-passing agency and a tool to support the administration is not democracy. Power is not eternal. The ruling and opposition parties can change anytime in a democracy. The democratization movement was about creating such a society.
Voters made the DP a super majority so it can lead the government in effective ways. It does not mean legislative rights can be exercised as the president wishes. The presidential system is a separation of powers through checks and balances. If it does not matter whether the opposition opposes or does not attend, there is no reason for minority parties to exist. A frame is hanging in the Blue House secretary’s office saying, “Be gentle to others like a spring breeze and be strict to yourself like an autumn frost,” — a gift from the president.
More in Columns
Regulation does no good
Japan’s new prime minister
Oblivious to history
Lessons from Kim Dae-jung
Weathering the cloud