The term “summit talks” has made a comeback in Korean politics. It refers to a meeting between the president and the head of the main opposition party aiming to settle pending political issues in one stroke. Yet, the ongoing maneuvers involving the two major parties and the Blue House in arranging a meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu are only making the nation’s partisan politics more complicated.
Further frustrating onlookers is the apparent distrust between the leaders of the opposition Democratic Party itself. No less worrying is the discordance between presidential aides and top executives of the ruling Grand National Party. Cheap tricks prevail in the political arena, where principled fair play is missing.
The National Assembly has remained idle since the ruling party rammed the 2011 budget and a number of legislative bills through the plenary session on Dec. 8 amid physical clashes between members of the rival camps. In an attempt to “normalize” the legislature, GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung and his DP counterpart Park Jie-won had a tete-a-tete on Sunday. They came up with an “agreement” to open the Assembly on Feb. 14 and arrange “summit talks” between the president and the DP’s Sohn as soon as possible. That agreement met instant objections from the opposition party’s executive council as well as from the presidential office over the question of “conditions.”
DP Chair Sohn demanded President Lee apologize for the irregular passage of the budget bill either before or during the projected meeting. The presidential office on the other hand asserted that opening an Assembly session was one thing and Lee’s meeting with Sohn is another and that the latter cannot be a precondition for the former. Presidential aides also objected to calling the proposed meeting “summit talks,” which they alleged smack of the shady backroom deals of the past authoritarian rule.
Park, the DP floor head, attributed the Blue House’s reluctance to accept his agreement with Kim Moo-sung to its lack of full trust in the Assembly majority leader. But within his party, Park also faced complaints from the party chair for making arbitrary decisions in negotiations with the ruling party while he was away on nationwide protest tours.
President Lee also played a little politics. During his televised roundtable last week, he vowed he would try earnestly to settle the current impasse and expressed his intent to meet with Sohn whom he had known well “since we both were with the Grand National Party.” Sohn was one of the presidential contenders in the conservative GNP until he joined the liberal force in 2007.
Observing all these irritating developments, one cannot but deplore domestic politics drifting aimlessly with exchanges of testosterone-fueled tirades between parties and noisy quarrels between intra-party rivals. To take care of the urgent and important national agenda covering security, economy and diplomacy, the nation needs “big politics” instead of games of intrigue that expend much energy on how to hold “summit talks.”
It is the job of none other than President Lee to freshen up the general atmosphere and promote healthy partisan politics leading to a more productive operation of the National Assembly. On his table are the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, the constitutional amendment issue, the four-river development controversy, inter-Korean dialogue and defense buildup tasks. If he believes direct dialogue with the DP head is necessary, he should not hesitate because of any opposition precondition. The president can do a lot in the final two years in office by actively and faithfully engaging in domestic politics.