Sat, 16 Sep 2000

Loyal opposition: A misnomer for South Korea?

SEOUL: The term "loyal opposition," as a moniker for South Korea's organized political "outs" raises a number of questions. The word "loyal" can be used interchangeably, although with variable nuances, with the following synonyms: dedicated, dependable, devoted, faithful, steadfast, steady or true. Key, then, are the questions loyal to whom and to what.

Definitions for the word "opposition" range from antagonism, antithesis and dissimilarity to downright dislike, distaste and aversion. And again the questions should be asked who and what are the targets -- legitimate or otherwise -- of such consolidated opposition. And for what purpose or purposes?

Democracies, to maintain a vibrant and viable political environment, must have an active, healthy opposition. It should be noted that the word healthy as a qualifier in the preceding sentence is of paramount importance.

History has shown that dissent, vigorous debate and eventual compromise are the necessary components which give birth to the policies and laws that best serve the interests and needs of the broadest spectrum of a nation's citizens in a democratic society.

It is constructive criticism and the voicing of opposing ideas which add strength and credibility to the system and keep it from veering too far either to the right or the left or hurtling into the crevasse of failure.

Based upon this assumption, American news analyst Edward R. Murrow once stated, "Dissent should never be confused with disloyalty."

Bear in mind, though, that he was addressing the issue of dissent in the context of a difference of opinion or a healthy defense of principle, rather than as hardline across-the-board intransigence, aversion, and out and out sabotage.

When the opposition is loyal to but one segment or area of a nation, rather than the nation as a whole, and when its dissent is both stubborn and closed to the spirit of compromise regardless of the merit of any policy the ruling party proposes, one must question the meaning of the term "loyal opposition" as it is currently used in Korea.

Furthermore, the question must be asked has it crossed the line from being a healthy opposition to a being one which simply seeks to block and halt the normal process of government?

One does not have to jog one's memory too vigorously to recall the back-to-back National Assembly sessions, convened by the opposition so that some of their assembly members could not be held accountable and be arrested for their misdeeds.

Moreover, there were times when the opposition side of the hall was vacant, due to boycotts and walk-outs and endless periods of time when the opposition leaders refused to engage in any dialogue with the ruling party members, regardless of pressing national needs which had to be addressed.

Currently, the deadlock has precluded convening the National Assembly. Yet, whenever the duly elected leadership attempts to move ahead unilaterally the opposition stands ready to lob vitriolic criticism, sling mud and wallow in the gutter politics of branding leaders as liars concerning anything and everything.

Such repeated tactics are not only a destabilizing influence, but would appear to be openly calculated to cause disruption and failure, not only of the current leadership and its domestic programs but in the integrity of the nation's international relations.

In spite of this, the opposition leadership continues to make forays into the countryside to make pie-in-the-sky promises to the people and enlist their support.

By seeking support on the basis of their "do nothing" and "stonewall everything" record, they show contempt for the citizens' basic ability to realistically assess the sincerity of their rhetoric.

That takes unabashed guts and unmitigated gall!

No two people -- friends or enemies -- will agree on everything. Not even family members always see eye-to-eye. Legislative bodies never do and political parties never will.

However, businesses and corporations know that efficient teamwork is a crucial element of their success. So, too, bipartisan cooperation is central to the commonweal and a nation's successful and efficient government.

Small children, who haven't yet mastered their social skills, will call each other names, pull each other's hair, give each other nasty looks and pout. Ultimately they may gather up their toys and go home.

Such behavior is not acceptable among adults, but that appears to be the on-going immature behavior of Korea's opposition. Concerning such blind, intransigent conduct, French satirist Jean de La Bruyere once wrote, "Party loyalty lowers the greatest of men to the petty level of the masses."

Democracy is young in Korea, but isn't it time for the opposition politicians to grow up, become responsible adults and make the welfare of the nation their number one priority?

The "take to the streets" tactics which were the only avenues for protest under authoritarian rule are not applicable or acceptable for the opposition lawmakers in a democratic government.

If they do not see fit to resolve the nation's problems within the government structure they are not just part of the problem -- they are the problem.

The writer is a member of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation.

-- The Korea Herald/Asia News Network