The more things change...

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The more things change...

GAESEONG, Oct. 15, 2014 ― Governing party leaders, seeking to avoid a revolt from junior lawmakers, have agreed to reverse their policy on the re-introduction of the American presidential system of government, according to documents obtained by the JoongAng Daily. Prime Minister Han Ji-young is expected to announce the policy change Monday in her state of the union address to the National Parliament in the Unified Korean capital of Gaeseong. Party insiders say the about-face is necessary to head off a revolt from parliamentarians from Hamheung and the northeast, who oppose any return to a strong presidency. “These young North Koreans don’t understand democracy,” said one bitter Han loyalist. “They want weak leadership because they think democracy is about the power to remove your leader. How can we get anything done?” Party officials would not be drawn on Ms. Han’s own future. She has led the party for nine months, which makes her the longest serving prime minister in the six years since re-unification. Her star rose in the lead-up to last year’s general election when she campaigned on a promise to tackle crime. Despite some strengthening of law enforcement and increased surveillance measures, crime has continued to soar. Violent crime has increased in all categories since re-unification; burglary in the Seoul area has returned to 1980s levels. For several months, Ms. Han has argued that political infighting would continue for as long as the power of the president was diluted. Earlier this year, the party began drafting a bill that would shift responsibility for national defense, police, and foreign policy to the presidential Green House. The Korean presidency was initially foreseen as a largely ceremonial role, but the drafters of the constitution did not expect the president to interpret his right to invite “the senior figure” of the majority party to form a government so widely. Twice in the last four years, the president has in fact selected a factional leader over the elected party head. Given the setback on constitutional change, the governing party is likely to propose strong new laws to curb the widespread abuse of the internal passport system. In the last month alone, authorities apprehended 6,000 North Koreans who were illegally working in Seoul and the southern provinces. Among these numbers, officials claimed, several hundred were family members of northern police officers who had been provided with forged passes. This case has highlighted difficulties with police recruitment and training in the North which goes back to the anti-collaboration clause written into the Constitution. Under this, officials who worked in the security services under strongman Kim Jong-il (1994-2008) are ineligible to serve as government employees. Many of the gangs terrorizing local businesses in Pyeongyang, the port cities and the steel town of Park Taejoon (formerly Kim Chaek) are led by former policemen and women. Many are financed by wealthy South Koreans whose claims to family lands in the north were nullified when the two states were unified. In her speech Monday, Ms. Han will also highlight the need to extend the official “re-unification transition period” (RTP) from seven to 12 years. Under RTP regulations, the border between the old ROK and DPRK remains in place and residents need a visa to cross. Petitions by the Geumgang and Paekdu Tourism Free Zones in the North for an early lifting of restrictions were rejected after a group of southern real estate agents posing as a church choir went missing. A recent study by the Ministry of National Economic Restructuring (MONER) claims that the border has saved the country an estimated $150 billion. Despite the hand-wringing of the past few years and forecasts of gloom, notably by the left-leaning South Korean media, foreign direct investment in the North continues to surge and export growth in the key tech sectors has been steady. This good news notwithstanding, most Koreans, according to a recent poll, feel the nation is in decline. Analysts attribute the pessimism to the rapid disappearance of nationalist sentiment since re-unification and the failure of subsequent governments to articulate a vision for the country. “For 60 years, the two Koreas constructed their foreign policy around the single theme of inter-Korean rivalry,” said Song Hak-huk of Seoul National University and the architect of Seoul’s short-lived policy of unification avoidance. “Now that rivalry is over and Koreans are no longer sure who they are.” “We need a new issue,” added Mr. Song, author of the best-seller “Why Manchuria is Ours.” * The writer is a public relations consultant and author. by Michael Breen

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