The missing diversity and balance

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The missing diversity and balance

Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Korean politics must learn from sports. In a soccer match, not the referee but an assistant referee rules on offside. The referee positioned closer to players has a higher rank, but an assistant referee — who stands outside the touchline — can more accurately see the locations of strikers, defenders and the ball.

What does that mean? It means anyone needs help from others with different perspectives to become perfect. That’s why the judgment is not made by one person in any sports game. And players accept the decision. It is far more reasonable and gentlemanly than politicians who try to silence the people with different opinions and challenge already-made agreements.

What are the president’s party and other parties — and the conservatives and the liberals — in a democracy? They are specialized groups as they have different values and represent different groups. As a result, they have different views toward the same issue, depending on their preferences on growth and distribution, freedom and equality. They must differ. Only then can we avoid the risk of totalitarianism and extremism. An open society where pluralistic values coexist is the path to a truly advanced country.

The same applies to a political party. When mainstream and non-mainstream coexist, we can respond flexibly to any change. That’s common knowledge in evolutionary biology too. If there is only one superior species, it can go extinct from a virus attack. But if other inferior species coexist, some will survive and maintain the ecosystem.

A political party that only recognizes one flag and one slogan is a cult group turning a blind eye to the fatal danger of inbreeding.

After the dictatorships of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan and economic development, we have seen the growth of democracy in the presidencies of Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Barrington Moore’s famous line, “no bourgeoisie, no democracy,” was right. But what happened later in Korean politicals is ominous.

The Moon Jae-in forces impeached and removed President Park Geun-hye for allegations of abuse of power by her associates. But through the Cho Kuk crisis, it was revealed that the liberal administration was one that had denied fairness and common sense.

Yoon Suk-yeol — who was promoted fast to the post of a prosecutor general by Moon to remove Park and her supporters under the campaign of “eradicating the accumulated evils” — won the March 9 presidential election as an opposition candidate. It was the karma of the Moon administration that had demonized the opposition party and refused to cooperate with it.

The Yoon administration should be different. Yoon must be presidential. He must accept other parties and non-mainstream groups and try to work with them. Only then, he won’t repeat the past mistake of the Moon administration.

And yet, we do not see the efforts to cooperate with the Democratic Party (DP), which holds the majority in the legislature. Instead, we only see a fierce internal battle between Yoon’s key allies and Chairman Lee Jun-seok of Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP).

On the surface, Lee was accused of instructing his aide to destroy the evidence of his alleged acceptance of a bribe nine years ago. But the problem was the different thoughts Lee had from other powerful PPP members. Lee faced resistance from the party after apologizing on behalf of a PPP member who disgraced the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Lee is a young politician in his 30s who is endlessly generating issues based on democracy and fair competition. He is different from the traditional conservative party. The truth of this civil war is an internal power struggle over the nomination power for the 2024 general elections.

At the moment, the country is undergoing both economic and security crises. The PPP must work with other parties to create a united front, but it is engrossed in a heated internal war. Doesn’t it really feel sorry for the people? 
President Yoon Suk-yeol answers questions from reporters at the doorstep of his office in Yongsan, July 5, as usual. [JOINT PRESS CORPS] 

Fortunately, President Yoon is taking the country in the right direction despite his lack of political experience and despite the PPP being outnumbered by other parties. Yoon has ended the era of the Blue House — a symbol of imperial presidency — and is making efforts to strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance, normalize Korea-Japan relations and restore the nearly defunct nuclear industry. He is also enthusiastic about deregulation, reforms of public corporations, labor, pensions and education.

His doorstep meetings with reporters are refreshing, as his predecessors hid behind their aides. As Yoon said he will receive a face-to-face briefing from each minister, we can expect heated debates between them.

As Yoon, a former top prosecutor, lacks a solid support base — a big difference from Moon — he will likely depart the factionalism-ridden politics. As Yoon owes nothing to the past, he is not a captive of the old-way of politics in Korea.

But today’s ugly politics surrounding the president have forgotten the shame to grab just a handful of power that will disappear in an instant. Politicians are killing each other’s illusions just because they have a different opinion.

The volatile civil war unfolding only two months after Yoon’s inauguration amid the unprecedented perfect storms is unjustifiable and shameless.
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