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[Editorial] The Biggest Victim of Inter-party Strife

Posted January. 08, 2009 05:07,   


The National Assembly is back to normal after a 20-day paralysis, but the public has suffered dearly due to intense political wrangling between the rival parties. Delays in the passage of bills aimed at supporting the working class have added to pain of ordinary people. Whether major bills designed to revive the sagging economy will be deliberated at all remains uncertain, causing disruptions in the planned implementation of economic policy. Moreover, the compromise between rival parties is only an interim solution, and partisan confrontation and struggle could resurface again at anytime.

The parliamentary ratification of the free trade deal with the United States, which could be a breakthrough to the global economic crisis for Korea, has been delayed ambiguously to after the inauguration of the Obama administration. Schedules for the deliberation of the bills designed to ease the separation of finance and industry, including those on banking and the financial holding company, remain unspecified. Rival parties only agreed to exert efforts to get other major bills passed during the extra parliamentary session next month. Such bills include those on the privatization of the Korea Development Bank, the planned merger of the Korea National Housing Corp. and the Korea Land Corp., and the development of the “five plus two” regional economic blocs in the nation. Hence chances are that those bills could be revised or face delay in approval in the deliberation process.

Amid plunging exports and the growing chance of recession this year, postponing the deliberation of bills could lead to delays in a financial system reshuffle, which in turn could fuel corporate collapses and the growth of bad debts. Also delays in the passing of supplementary bills on public spending could result in no effect as the government could miss an opportunity to implement various expenditure plans. Bills on the reinforcement of the media industry have in effect gone nowhere in the agreement, which ambiguously suggests efforts to pass them through compromise on this.

Most seriously, a fundamental of parliamentary democracy has collapsed. Hammers and electric saws were mobilized at the supposedly sacred National Assembly, and physical brawls akin to brutal martial arts competitions were staged in parliament. The principle of rule by the majority has made way to violence by a minority, illegal acts and stubbornness, practices reminiscent of a barbaric age. The sacred hall of legislation has turned into a jungle of illegal actions and stigmatization, and who can afford to demand rule of law?

Members of the main opposition Democratic Party took a commemorative photo with all smiles before the main National Assembly hall as they ended a sit-in. They showed they won a struggle against the ruling party by demonstrating their presence as a strong opposition party. Though the Democratic Party might have won the battle, it must realize it lost the war. Its obstinacy, illicit acts and violence have effectively alienated the party from the majority of the public.

Ostensibly, Chairman Chung Sye-kyun led the Democratic Party’s violent struggles, but second-term lawmakers in their 40s spearheaded the protest. These lawmakers, who symbolized the identity of the now-defunct Uri Party under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, have shown their sense of violence without reservation through street protests. As conflict, confusion and the inefficiency of the Roh administration have already demonstrated, the party is specializing more in destruction and breaking things, than in producing and building things.

The ruing Grand National Party said it would pass all contentious bills by the end of last year, saying, “Reviving the economy and normalizing the nation are what legislation is all about,” just ahead of last year’s regular parliamentary session. The party, however, has done nothing despite having 172 seats to the Democratic Party’s 82. Ruling party chairman Park Hee-tae and floor leader Hong Joon-pyo had no carefully devised strategy or tactics or any beliefs or courage. Still, no one is taking responsibility for its colossal failure. Only party spokesman Cha Myung-jin has tendered his resignation, expressing responsibility and anger for the party’s “unconditional surrender.”

The lack of strategy is derived from the mistake made in the process of designing the administration, including the party’s nomination of candidates in the general elections in April last year. A case in point is the appointment of a party member who failed to be nominated as a candidate because of no qualified members. Ex-lawmakers Lee Jae-oh and Lee Bang-ho, who spearheaded the nomination, are largely responsible for the fiasco. The pro-Lee Myung-bak faction, considered mainstream in the party, has failed to play a notable role, while the pro-Park Geun-hye faction has remained aloof. The Grand National Party is the ruling party on the surface, but is full of cowardly commentators with no intent to fight. Their behavior was completely different from the way they acted when struggling to secure benefits following Lee Myung-bak’s victory in the presidential election.

The presidential office also showed its incompetence in handling political relations and in political skills. It has constantly asked the ruling party to “handle things on its own.” It lacked an accurate understanding on the relationships between itself and the National Assembly, and the party and the government. President Lee simply said, “The government can do things only with the support of the National Assembly,” but did not even bother to press the public on the urgency of the bills’ passage and persuade ruling and opposition lawmakers.

While opposition parties were destroying the representative democracy system and deriding the National Assembly, none among so many presidential aides wanted to step forward to try to regain public trust and overcome the crisis. Gone was the courage and ambition they had shown when they pledged a “speedy war.” Such a weak and self-protective well-being practice will cause the administration and ruling camp to inevitably lose in a second round of struggle for the passage of bills in next month’s extra Assembly session, and it will be the public who will suffer the brunt of the damage.