Editorial: South Korea provides good lessons

Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 8

On Friday, South Korea's National Assembly voted to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun by a vote of 193 to 2.

Roh was immediately suspended from office and Prime Minister Goh Kun assumed executive powers. This ugly parliamentary coup stunned the whole world.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was almost recalled by the opposition camp during the first year of his presidency. Surprisingly, a similar situation has now occurred in South Korea, with Roh facing an even greater difficulty than Chen did at the time. The rocky democratization process in these two democratic Confucian Asian countries is indeed regrettable.

Although both Roh and Chen rose from poverty, and used to be human rights lawyers, Roh's schooling and administrative experience record is inferior to Chen's. Moreover, Roh's words and deeds are often abrupt, and South Korea is more radical and extreme than Taiwan, with its Confucian doctrine of the mean, or middle way. These factors of course helped give Roh a hard time in the past year.

Roh's impeachment has reverberated throughout South Korea. The ensuing uncertainty will inevitably bring turbulence and upheaval to Korean politics. Society is unstable and the political situation chaotic. This has not only added another disaster to Korea's economic slowdown, but it also affects the nation's interaction with the outside world and its international image.

The fact that Roh was impeached by South Korea's parliament is, to put it in the simplest language, a result of the opposition-dominated parliament, combined with a backlash of reactionary and conservative vested interests who have brought about obstacles for the government. Political fights and coups d'etat are common in Korean history. In South Korean society, where the superior-subordinate relationship and class awareness are strong, the transfer of political power was certain to bring forth conflict among generations and among ethnic groups in different regions and between conservative and reformist forces.

This is also a battle going on in which Roh is leading the new, reformist generation in a fight against groups with vested interests, especially "the old politics of the three Kims." The conservative forces' stubborn resistance is of course an attempt to safeguard their political privileges.

Roh himself believes that 60 percent of the population does not want to see him step down. He is also supported by the young Internet generation, and the party supporting him may win a great victory in next month's parliamentary elections to become the biggest party in the legislature. This support makes him feel confident that he will once again rise above the parliamentary opposition.

Roh and most people in South Korea know that the counts on which he is being impeached by parliament are far-fetched. In this situation, he has to gamble everything and use the friction between political parties and the public desire for a stable political situation to create a crisis from which he can emerge victorious.

During this newspaper's interview with Chen a few days ago, we told Chen that neighboring Asian countries are observing and learning from each other. The South Korean people now harbor a strong wish for Taiwan's presidential election not to have a negative influence on South Korea's democratic development. At the same time, the South Korean parliament's preposterous use of "violence by the majority" to impeach Roh may serve as a very good lesson for Taiwan -- a reformist government must have the support of parliament to be successful. An opposition-dominated parliament will only become the accomplice of anti-reformists. In the light of Roh's treatment, how could we not seek to reform Taiwan's vicious legislature?