The tricameral solution

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The tricameral solution

Yeom Jae-ho

The author is an emeritus professor and former president of Korea University.

The United States ascended to be the No. 1 global power less than 200 years after it became independent from a British colony. Countries as big as the U.S., like Canada, Russia and Brazil, have not achieved such greatness. America owes its success to incessant endeavors to resolve future challenges and build new systems. U.S. leaders have not made enemies with the British over past issues and contributed to introducing new systems for their country.

Monarchies still dominated at the time when the U.S. broke out of the British empire. Its founding fathers created a presidential system with the separation of executive, legislative and judiciary branches to ensure checks and balances instead of following the monarchy. President George Washington insisted on retiring after his second term to the bafflement of his aides. Some wondered how a monarch could resign after an eight-year rule and whether the helm should be taken by his son. Those more familiar with monarchy could not comprehend why Vice President John Adams or Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson should succeed him through a vote. But a presidential system was upheld, and the system coupled with the separation of three powers has become the foundation for democracies around the world.

The U.S. set up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an independent agency for lunar exploration. By landing humans on the moon, which had been unimaginable, the U.S. ushered mankind into a new technological era. Silicon Valley remains a hub for new technologies and industries. Although the country is a federal republic populated by immigrants from diverse origins, it is united on the universal value of freedom. America maintains global leadership thanks to its creativity to solve social problems through new perspective and ways.

The military regime in Korea achieved spectacular industrialization for South Korea, but at the expense of civilian freedom. Korea has enjoyed democracy through election of civilian presidents since 1987. But social conflict has deepened and politics failed to solve it.

The new government under President Yoon Suk-yeol as well as his predecessors all emphasized the importance of communication and harmony, but partisanship has only worsened. Some point to regular change of the governing power as a sign of maturity of democracy in Korea, but Koreans know they are a result of the disillusionment and disappointment in the governing power they voted every five years.
President Yoon Suk-yeol announces the direction of his administration’s economic policy at Pangyo 2nd Techno Valley, Seongnam, Thursday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

It is still too early to judge Yoon — a former prosecutor general and newcomer to politics — as he has been just a month in office. But so far, he has been different from his predecessors. To end his term successfully, he must try to radically change the political system. Under the current two-party system, the National Assembly will be wrangling and clashing forever.

In the early days of this term, Yoon must set the ground to change the 27-year-old regime and propose constitutional reform after the 2024 parliamentary election to overhaul the political system. Many countries have bicameral legislatures with a lower house of civilian representatives and a higher chamber of seniors. The bicameral arrangement can contain unilateral and reckless lawmaking by a certain dominating party in a single legislature.

In the U.S., the upper chamber Senate has the power to ratify treaties and confirm senior government positions and presidential nominees. It reviews the bills approved by the house and can stop them. To end the era of conflict and division and pave the way for bipartisanship, we should serious deliberate moving beyond the single-house legislature. An upper chamber representing veterans of various social fields and a lower house of representatives can help resolve the ever-contentious winner-take-all legislative monopoly.

To look further beyond, we could consider a three-house system with a house representing future generations devoted to the problems of the future. Each country is saddled with deepening generational conflicts causing serious imbalances across social and economic fields. Bills only enlarging the fiscal deficit and government debt and problems in pensions and health insurance that transfer costs to the future generations have been passed in the populist legislatures without any discretion. The government earmarked 43 trillion won ($33 billion) spending this year to address low birthrates when childbirths had stopped at a mere 270,000 last year. With such a budget, each child would be subsidized with nearly 200 million won.

Instead of lawmakers passing the budget for partisan and political interests, future issues should be resolved by representatives of the house of younger generation. The house should be elected and run by people under 40 to push bills that directly affect them, such as those related to low birthrates, childcare, education, youth unemployment and pension and health insurance reforms. Bills that were passed by the two other houses should be subject to the endorsement by the younger house.

What can we create in the 21st century with ever-complicating social conflicts? These issues desirably should be solved in a tricameral parliament to bring unity across the ages.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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