New party whips
People, not politics, should be main concern
The nation’s two largest political parties have elected floor leaders, to take charge of their parliamentary strategies for the next two years.
Although the powers of floor leaders in Korean politics are far weaker than those of their U.S. counterparts, the two new whips have a greater mission than ever during this year’s presidential election to establish new trends for the 19th National Assembly.
The characters and track records of both politicians reassure and unsettle political observers.
Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, a four-term lawmaker and new leader of the majority party, is a ``reasonable” conservative. The bureaucrat-turned-scholar-turned-politician is the ``economic tutor” of Park Geun-hye, likely to be the next presidential candidate of the Saenuri Party.
Park Ji-won, Lee’s counterpart in the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), nicknamed the ``eternal chief of staff” for former President Kim Dae-jung, is also an experienced politician, or a sly old fox, as his critics see him. Lee will likely stick to principles, while Park will show more flexibility. Voters will feel relieved that neither is an ideological extremist.
If Park becomes president or running candidate, the majority whip will become the main architect of ``Geunhyenomics” advocating ``customized welfare,” another name for the conservatives’ selective welfare compared with the liberals’ universal plan before eventually aiming for office. His DUP counterpart may be a little more ambitious, wanting to be a king someday instead of ending up a kingmaker, if, and it’s a very big if, circumstances allow.
Yet it is worrisome, albeit understandable, that both have put forth victory in the December 19 presidential election as their first and foremost priority. That means they will engage in a fierce tug-of-war starting as early as next month in the formation of the 19th Assembly, over which party will chair which standing committees that can exert the biggest influence on the election. Gone will be concentration on enacting laws that will speed up economic recovery and help to spread growth to needy corners of society.
The indulgence in electoral party politics, when combined with new parliamentary procedures such as the adoption of U.S.-style filibuster and fast track devices, could turn the Assembly into an extremely inefficient legislature.
The Saenuri Party has made it clear will push ahead with putting Park’s various pledges into action, but the majority opposition is vowing to transform the newly-elected Assembly into a stage for lambasting the government and its party.
Putting the needs of the people ahead of electoral politics and enhancing the productivity of the National Assembly instead of turning it into an arena for power struggles cannot be done by the floor leaders alone either ― it requires the whole political community to awaken.
We hope the election of the new party whips will serve as an occasion for all politicians to reaffirm the obvious, but frequently neglected axiom ― politics ultimately is to benefit the people, not the politicians.