State governance is like a three-legged or four-legged race. Even if the executive branch wants to run fast, it can’t if other branches of government, be it the legislature or local governments, slow down or stop.
So said President Park Geun-hye, summarizing the difficulties she had faced last year in steering the nation. Park related her experiences to some 200 leaders of the nation, including from the three branches of government, political parties and business organizations, who attended the New Year’s meeting at the Blue House on Friday.
The message Park sought to get across to the dignitaries was that they should all pull their weight to help the nation move forward. Her message was especially directed at political leaders, given that her efforts to revive the economy had been hamstrung by the paralysis of the National Assembly.
Park stressed that the legislature should give hope to the public by enacting laws that could contribute to economic growth and national development. This invites the following question: Will the Assembly be able to operate normally this year?
As was the case last year, much will depend on how the allegations that the state spy agency had meddled in the presidential election are dealt with. Last month, the stiff standoff between the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party over the allegations against the National Intelligence Service eased to some degree as they reached an agreement on reforming the agency.
Under the agreement, the two parties approved a set of bills to ban the NIS from intervening in politics and to strengthen parliamentary oversight. But these bills alone do not put an end to the controversy.
The DP still demands that Park appoint a special counsel to dig deeper into the allegations that the NIS and other state agencies had systematically intervened in the presidential election.
The opposition party also wants the special prosecutor to probe the allegations that the incumbent government attempted to stonewall prosecutors’ investigation into NIS agents involved in the scandal.
At the New Year’s meeting, DP chairman Kim Han-gil pressured Park to appoint a special counsel, saying that she would be able to concentrate on revitalizing the economy by letting the special prosecutor take care of the NIS case.
It was a thinly veiled warning that she would not be able to concentrate on the economic recovery should she continue to turn a deaf ear to the party’s demand for a more thorough investigation.
If last year’s experience is any guide, the opposition party is likely to continue to ignore reform bills unless Park accepts its demands. Many reform bills essential to keeping up the recovery momentum remain pending, although some were passed last month along with the NIS bills and the 2014 budget proposal.
Under these circumstances, Park is advised to take a more pragmatic approach to state governance. As the current law on the National Assembly clearly gives the opposition party the upper hand in setting the legislative agenda, she cannot pursue her vision without the DP’s cooperation.
There are signs that Park is seeking to project a different image this year. Monday’s New Year news conference is seen as part of her efforts to break away from her cold and aloof image. To win her three-legged race, she needs to adapt to her partners. After all, politics is said to be the art of the possible.