Against the flow

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Against the flow

Kim Jung-kee
The author is an emeritus professor of journalism and mass communication at Hanyang University.

I feel sad to see so many shops on the street and in underground passages shut down. These places of people’s livelihoods, where many customers have come and gone through the year, are now empty and abandoned. Notices that the spaces are available for rent look pathetic. The devastated shop owners are not to be seen, and probably that’s for the best.

“He was probably barefoot all the time / Just like a bird who had lost love would bury its beak in the chest to endure a night, he would have endured sorrow by burying his barefoot on his chest / When his home is calling / He would have gone out to the street on barefoot to seek food / After being on the street on barefoot all day long / He would return home, ridden with the smell of poverty / Then his crying family would eat and stop crying,” as poet Moon Tae-jun comforted the battered souls in his poem “Barefoot.”

A “barefoot” shop owner, who had lost his way of making ends meet, is probably doing his best to open the business again and feed his family.

Whenever I came home from work, the same news report was repeated each day for more than a month. The report said the National Assembly was unable to open its doors because the two main parties failed to agree on who would control standing committees. I felt enraged as I was reminded of the heartbreaking scenes of the closed shops.

Shop owners had no choice but to shut their businesses in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, high prices, high interest rates, and a slow economy. But the lawmakers are freely shutting down the doors of the National Assembly, which should have been working for weeks by now.

It is nothing new that the legislature has failed to start its operations as scheduled. That’s a chronic disease. But it is a disease that must be cured for the sake of the people and future of the country. But the patients — the uncaring legislators — don’t seem to understand the situation or have any willingness to do so. It is frustrating because this disease must be treated by the patients themselves.

“Members of the National Assembly shall give preference to national interests and shall perform their duties in accordance with conscience,” declares Clause 2 of Article 46 of our Constitution. By doing so, they must put all efforts to realizing the goal that “all citizens shall be assured of human worth and dignity and have the right to pursuit of happiness,” as stipulated in Article 10 of the constitution.

But the lawmakers are obsessed with interests of their own parties, not national interests or the people’s happiness. Their views and actions are not about the people; all they think about is achievements of the parties and their own gains.

While the negotiations between the major parties broke down to form the National Assembly’s committees, no lawmaker criticized the situation or offered a plan to resolve the paralysis of the legislature. Even when the rival parties were negotiating, they just insisted on their own demands and attacked one another. They showed no responsibility and blamed each other for the logjam. Their slogans and promises to serve the people, therefore, were totally empty.

Constitution Day, which falls on July 17, was one of the dates the lawmakers picked as a deadline to form the National Assembly. There is no special day for the National Assembly to start its session, but Constitution Day is an important day to mark the anniversary of the promulgation of the country’s Constitution, established on July 12, 1948. It is one of the five major national holidays. And yet, the lawmakers failed to keep the promise to start the Assembly on the special anniversary designated to commemorate the pledge to protect a society based on the Constitution. The lawmakers disgraced the crucial anniversary all on their own.

The negotiations to form the National Assembly were settled on July 22. Although the opening of the legislature was delayed for 53 days, the agreement was nothing special. The two largest parties agreed to take turns to head the Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee and the Security and Public Administration Committee for one year each.

The agreement is extremely disappointing and the people’s patience is turning into cynicism. The legislature must repent its wrongdoing by enacting a new law to prohibit its members from receiving salaries and using their privileges when the legislature’s session was abnormally delayed.

The National Assembly must also stop bypassing and abusing laws, like what the majority party had done during the first half of this National Assembly’s term by ignoring public opinions and procedures.

The National Assembly must create laws for the people, not for a political party or lawmakers. A law must flow like water. Water flows right and left, but it always flows downwards. Only then can the legislature touch the people and ease their thirst.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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