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The ghosts of the past

Mar 14,2017
Korea is a constitutional democracy. It runs on a democratic system defined by the Constitution. The actions of the president, therefore, fall under constitutional compliance. The Constitutional Court’s endorsement of the legislature’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye has been the epitome of Korean constitutionalism.

The first article of our Constitution states that the sovereign rights to this nation lie with the people and that all powers come from the people.

The March 10 verdict removing Park from the office has been a historical call to finally cut ourselves off from bad habits of the past. Not all may agree with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, but it is the duty of all citizens under this Constitution and in this democracy to accept its ruling.

For months, large numbers of people with voting rights have gathered every Saturday night carrying candles to call for a departure from the outworn ways of Korea’s shadowy past — a time of unconstitutionalism when leaders were above the law of the land. Parting leads to a new beginning. The dawn pushes away the darkness away and brings in light. A new morning has risen in Korean politics.

The country now moves from impeachment trial to presidential election. All the candidates will shout the same promises to do away with outdated systems and customs. They will decorate their platforms with rosy promises for the future. They will feed voters a populist agenda. Voters therefore need to be extra vigilant. They must not be fooled by the extravagant promises and grandiose talk. We cannot afford to be deceived again.

Economy is politics. If the economy is shaky, politics cannot build anything substantial. Old politics have bred old economic mechanisms.

The next president enters at a time when everything seems negative for the economy. The growth engine has lost steam. Yet society is in need of an even distribution of wealth. Heavily-indebted households are just barely muddling along. Presidential aspirants must be able to say how they can reactivate the growth engine while balancing the needs of greater social security. Growth and equality have been addressed separately in the past. The government had to choose one over the other.

Today’s challenges require an entirely different approach. Inequalities have deepened. Competition has become fiercer. Innovations are born through competition. Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor have survived in the global market and are struggling not to fall behind. Facebook, Google, and Amazon all have become multinationals by weathering hard tests of the market and through constant innovation.
But when there is a winner, there are always losers. The losers are forgotten. These are the sad consequences of a merciless contest for growth.

Corporate losers widen the gap in growth. Income and wealth disparities breed social tension. Evening out the gap is necessary. The candidates for president must be able to solve the tough equation of delivering both growth and greater equality. It is not simple. But a start can be made by ending the collusive relationship between the public and private sectors.

The president was removed because of the power she wielded over businesses. One justice said the collusion between political power and the chaebol can bestow privileges on the business in questions while undermining the corporate will and creativity of other enterprises. Excessive concentration of power in the president has fed the illicit ties between the public and corporate sectors to violate individual and corporate property rights and economic freedoms as well as weakening economic justice and social fairness, he said.

The highly contagious virus of corruption sprouted during industrialization and survived throughout the democratic period. It has made our society ill and our economy weak. The corporate sector is partly to be blamed. Companies benefited in return for their regular tributes to the governing power. The economy cannot grow as long as it is under such restraints. The virus of corruption would only get stronger.

Article 119 of the Constitution says the Korean economic order is based on the economic freedom of individuals and business enterprises and respect for their creativity. Collusion between the public and private sectors impairs economic freedom and creativity and therefore is an unconstitutional act.

Our presidential candidates must vow to cease the harmful tradition of illicit ties between the public and private sectors. The constitution must never be trampled on by the nation’s leader in this way ever again.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 13, Page 28