[Lee Jae-min] Divided and adrift

2017-03-07 17:42

So many of us have heard too many times for so long that it’s the politics that is a drag on Korea’s future. Hard working people, the educated workforce and innovative businesspeople have worked a Korean miracle, but at the end of the day, the failing politics will be what holds Korea back. While we have known this for some time, we never imagined that the sub-average politics could actually ruin the country this fast.

Ever since the presidential scandal engulfed the country, political leaders, both in the ruling and opposition camps, have made it no secret that they will take advantage of the national turmoil to drive their political agenda – amass the political clout and take over (or maintain) the national helm at the Blue House. What is best for the country is not necessarily in the calculation mix where provoking outrage brings votes but the echoing voice of reason kills them.

Thanks to this outrage escalation leadership of the politicians, the nation is now deeply divided. So much so that the demonstration duel last weekend raises a fair question whether the pro- and anti-impeachment groups are from the same country. Nonetheless, there is no wise man to calm them down or broker a compromise. Really, “outrage is easy; strategy is hard,” as Tony Blair quipped recently,

Now the final turning point is coming this week. Before we knew it, three months have passed and the impeachment trial is about to end soon. The Constitutional Court is scheduled to issue the verdict by later this week. An impeachment ruling will remove the president for good, and an election will take place within 60 days.

Unless a dramatic rapprochement is somehow brought about before the final ruling, no matter what the outcome post-impeachment Korea will remain deeply divided. Not just divided, but fractured and splintered. Add some fake news and conspiracy theories in the mix. A fireball will be thrown in the oil mist. Possibly, a disaster that no one can handle.

In theory, the decision of the Constitutional Court should close the chapter on this saga. We call it rule of law. But both pro- and anti-impeachment groups are now ratcheting up pressure on the Constitutional Court by threatening non-obedience if the decision is adverse. This is simply unacceptable: with the rule of law replaced with street anger, we simply stop being a democratic society.

At this critical juncture, leading politicians remain silent. No one pledges to respect the court’s decision yet. Come to think of it, rule of law does not serve the leading politicians’ interest. Rule of law means people listening to voice of reason as opposed to an outcry of anger. They know that voice of reason may be good for the country but is inefficient in generating popular votes. Instead, galvanizing people with a constant supply of anger is much more efficient. The past three months have laid bare the true face of the political circle of the country: be it ruling or opposition, they are unable to lead and unable to think for the nation’s future.

We can only blame ourselves. We looked at politics and politicians with cynicism but did not do much to have young, reliable and visionary leaders to join the force and prosper. Cynicism in us becomes parochialism and factionalism at each election time, only to see the bad drive out the good. One leader is gone, and a neck-and-neck next one comes along. There is no big difference between the conservative group and the liberal group -- a chronic dearth of talents in the political sector. Only big egos and presidential hopefuls are the last men standing. Come next election, poor people then are forced to pick the lesser of the two evils. More cynicism settles in, and a new cycle begins.

At stake in the coming months after the Constitutional Court ruling is the future of the nation. If political leaders cannot lead, we can only yearn for voice of reason from people on the street. The court issues a decision. Everyone accepts. The country moves on. Simple three steps expected of any responsible democratic society. 

By Lee Jae-min

Lee Jae-min is a professor of law at Seoul National University. He can be reached at jaemin@snu.ac.kr. -- Ed.
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