Published : 2013-08-29 19:43
Updated : 2013-08-29 19:43
David Easton, a renowned Canadian-born political scientist and research professor at a U.S. university, defines politics as the authoritative allocation of values for society. In a democratic political system, the most widely used definition of politics may be paraphrased more colloquially as the process of coordinating and resolving conflicts between different interests.
In Korea, where long-standing partisan wrangling has paralyzed parliamentary functions, the more pertinent definition appears to be the second one. It may not be an overstatement to say the political process itself is absent now as the president and the opposition leader have failed to meet to discuss urgent tasks facing the nation due to disagreements over whether the meeting should be bilateral or joined by other political leaders. The inertia of ruling party officials in ending the political deadlock over the state spy agency’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election has only added to the public’s frustration and anger with politics.
Aside from whose case is more justifiable and whose argument is more persuasive, all political leaders should recognize that their role is to smooth out conflicts, not to inflame confrontation. How could they keep their common promise to bring about a politics that serves to enhance people’s livelihoods, when they are locked in a prolonged political standoff? Their role as coordinators is all the more needed in Korea where a complicated set of conflicts have been running deep along ideological, regional, economic and generational fault lines.
Political circles should take note of a recent study that showed the seriousness of conflicts gripping Korean society. According to a paper presented by a local researcher at a symposium in Seoul, Korea ranked second highest after Turkey in the level of social conflict among the 27 surveyed member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It scored 0.72 ― far above the OECD average of 0.44 ― in the social conflict index, which took into account the Gini coefficient, the level of democracy and the government’s capability in each country as of 2010.
The paper estimated that social discord cost Korea up to 246 trillion won ($220 billion) each year, saying that the country would see its per capita gross domestic product increase by 7 to 21 percent if its social conflict index was at the OECD average level. This argument may be somewhat exaggerated but can be construed as highlighting the urgent need to reduce and resolve conflicts in our society.
Failure to manage conflicts aggravates social and political instability, which in turn increases uncertainty for business activities and investment decisions, leading talented people to move abroad. A nation lacking the ability to resolve internal strife tends to be more vulnerable to external impact.
In this sense, the most urgent and important thing Korea should do to sustain its growth and advance further is to establish an effective system to manage and settle social conflicts. Forming the culture of compromise and coexistence is also needed to set up a sustainable and effective welfare scheme.
Fairness and transparency should take firm root as the guiding principles of Korean society, with the rich and powerful ready to make more concessions and exercise more restraints.
Politics will become fit for its more democratic definition when politicians take the lead in the effort to resolve conflicts instead of hampering it as they have done so far.