Cooperation is a two-way streetPresident Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday addressed the National Assembly for the first time since his inauguration last Tuesday to plead for speedy approval of a supplementary budget primarily to help small merchants who suffered from Covid-19 restrictions.
Yoon picked a necktie of a blueish color — the official color of the Democratic Party (DP) — and stopped to greet lawmakers while making his way to the podium. He bowed toward representatives from the DP and Justice Party and walked up to their seats after making his speech. His gesture drew applause from his People Power Party (PPP). The sight should be common in democracies. But in Korea, presidents often are booed and cold-shouldered by rival parties during appearances in the National Assembly.
During his 18-minute address, Yoon repeatedly called for the politics of cooperation. “The gravity of the challenges and crisis we face today require cooperation beyond ideological and party differences,” he said, and cited the coalition government British Prime Minister Winston Churchill formed with Labor Party leader Clement Attlee during the Second World War. “A true free democracy is based on legislative faith. The legislature is the center of governance,” he said.
“We may differ in political values in South Korea, but we need a partnership like Churchill and Attlee’s to jointly overcome crisis.” He vowed to discuss important state affairs with legislative leaders and members and called for bipartisan support on pension, labor and education reforms. If they are further delayed, he said, Korea’s sustainability could be endangered.
It is natural that the president first offered his respects to the legislature. He asked all PPP members to attend the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement memorial day and the party has given its promise. But how long any kind of honeymoon period may last cannot be certain. All presidents promised cooperation at the beginning of their terms, but gave up in the face of strong opposition from rival parties. Yoon and the PPP must make efforts continuously. Efforts must be made to build trust and share experiences in order to achieve a real partnership.
The DP must not stay recalcitrant. Yoon has proposed a soju night with legislative executive members and leaders of three mainstream political parties in hopes for a breakthrough in the stalled confirmation of prime minister candidate Han Duck-soo. The DP, however, declined. If the party that controls 168 seats in the Assembly opposes everything for the sake of opposition, it could lose public support. The DP must be open-minded and willing to cooperate when necessary.