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[Editorial] President Roh’s Endless Political Tricks

Posted July. 29, 2005 03:04,   


President Roh Moo-hyun put forward a sequel to his proposal of a “coalition government.” This time, he said to the opposition Grand National Party that the government would transfer much authority up to the level of a parliamentary cabinet system in return for a revision of the election system to systematically address the regional structure. This means that he proposed a great coalition in which he would hand over the authority to appoint a prime minister and part of the cabinet. President Roh said yesterday in his open letter titled “A letter to my fellow party members” that he is willing to even change the government if that resolves the regional structure.

At first glance, it looks like a manifestation of the idea that he would make the resolution of regional structure as his political mission and that he would forgo anything to fulfill that mission. However, a closer look reveals that the remark is nothing more than a preemptive move based on thorough political calculation. What his remark demonstrates is not the attitude to recover public support by doing the right thing in the management of state affairs and by revitalizing the economy and people’s livelihoods. It signals one of the president’s unique tricks to overcome the crisis of government by shaking the status quo.

He said, “I talk about coalition because the opposition dominates Korean politics.” It is fair to say that this remark revealed that the end goal for the coalition is to change the current structure in which the opposition has more seats than the ruling party in the National Assembly. Moreover, one can figure out that in the name of “resolution to the regional structure,” the president intends to lay the foundation for maintaining the ruling party as the majority ruling party by introducing an election system favorable to the ruling party.

President Roh should ask himself what he has actually contributed to the resolution of the regional structure issue and whether he thinks that regional problems could be addressed immediately if he hands over the government to the GNP. It is hard to avoid thinking that he has unveiled his intention to “shake up the status quo” in the run-up to the local elections due next year because the ruling Uri Party is expected to be weak against the backdrop of developments in the GNP and the Millennium Democratic Party, and the movement to form a new party in the Chungcheong region.

The president assumes himself, “it would be hard for the GNP to accept it immediately,” which evidences his political calculations. It is fair to say that the president himself plays out his strategy, putting more weight on political offense than on plausibility. This is why the public is disappointed by him and questions his morality.

The nature of the president’s proposed coalition is obviously gambling-like or false. If a coalition government is established in which the GNP plays a leading role, that would mean the creation of a behemoth government representing more than 90 percent of the National Assembly seats. That would be not only an unprecedented way of making a coalition in world political history, but also an artificial change of Korea’s political landscape which defies comparison with the creation of the Democratic Liberal Party over a decade ago through the combination of three parties: the Democratic Justice Party, the Unification Democratic Party and the New Democratic Republican Party.

President Roh Moo-hyun has accused the GNP as if the party is a hotbed of “wrong values to be cleared up.” However, he now says, “It can be said that the actual gap in policy line between the ruling Uri Party and the GNP is not so big. Supra-partisan cooperation will be possible if the two parties have a policy debate in a joint general meeting of Assembly members.” It is a surprising change of ideas. In reality, however, policies are endlessly drifting as the ruling Uri Party fails to address conflict over policy lines within the party.

Even if a coalition party which accounts for 90 percent of Assembly seats is formed through a miraculous resolution of the two parties’ differences and a coalition effort, enormous confusion and side effects will be certainly caused if the party just focuses on election procedures in the name of “resolution of regional structure” without a consensus on political content.

Setting aside this problem of plausibility in reality, the president’s proposal of arbitrary transfer of power is vulnerable to the accusation that it runs against the principle of democracy. From a legal perspective, a transfer of a large part of the mandate and obligation that the public gave him according to constitutional procedure to the opposition can be interpreted as an abandonment of state affairs, which goes against the spirit of the constitution. The transfer of power is not something that a president can conduct arbitrarily. It is only done by the public through elections. The logic is the same as the fact that a president cannot hand over the authority of commander-in-chief to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at his convenience.

Fortunately, many people will not be affected because they are accustomed to President Roh’s tricks and have developed resistance to them to a degree. The public has a vivid memory of the actions by the president and the ruling Uri Party and changes in the president’s job approval ratings after they won a majority of seats in the general elections last year, largely thanks to the backlash from the presidential impeachment. In short, the president’s proposal is an ill-advised adventure which seems to reveal the true colors of “386 generation politics.”