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  National
Impeachment
The Roh Impeachment: American Perspective
Special Contribution
By Peter M. Beck
President Roh with First Lady Mrs. Roh
As a witness to Korea's democratic transformation since 1987, I have learned three lessons about Korean politics: Expect the unexpected, be patient, and never underestimate the Korean people. Nevertheless, my rules could not fully prepare me for President Roh Moo-hyun's impeachment. I was saddened that the political atmosphere in Korea had become so polarized and poisoned. Yet, I have every faith in the Korean people's ability to overcome this challenge. Moreover, Koreans can take heart in the fact that the American politics is suffering from many of the same afflictions.

As shocking at the impeachment was, almost equally distressing was the manner in which the impeachment vote took place. The American media was full of images of brawling politicians and flying shoes. The images reinforced the stereotype that Koreans are a hot-headed people. In order for Korea to join the ranks of advanced democracies, it is essential for Korea's political leaders to be able to settle their differences peacefully through the existing laws and institutions.

Equally important, the Korean public faces the challenge of not letting the political strife lead to social strife. Koreans must show the maturity that was on display during the 2002 World Cup and the candlelight vigils for the two school girls killed during a U.S. military training exercise. This will not be easy given that Korean society is almost as polarized as the National Assembly, but will be critical for Korea to maintain the confidence of the international financial community, not to mention a healthy, functioning democracy.

Tens of thousands of citizens in central Seoul in candlelight vigils against impeachment
The seemingly never-ending corruption scandals should make it abundantly clear that the Korean political system is broken and needs to be fixed. Fortunately, in less than four weeks, Korean voters will have an opportunity to select leaders who can hopefully put and end to the money-driven boss politics of the three Kims. The question is, is Korea's next generation of leaders up to the task, or will they behave like their elders?

Before Koreans are too hard on themselves or feel too embarrassed, it is useful to remember that the United States is only doing marginally better, and we have had a 200-year head start on Korea. The quest to build a more perfect democracy is an on-going process. Just four years ago, Congress nearly impeached President Clinton for the high crime of lying about an affair with an intern. Many Republican leaders hated Clinton so much that were willing to use almost any pretext to bring him down.

America has become much more deeply polarized since President Bush took office. Instead of unifying the American public and the world after September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration has relied on unilateralism both at home and abroad. Republican leaders have displayed a willingness to stop at almost nothing to pass their legislation. An investigation will soon be under way to determine if the White House lied to Congress and the American people in order to pass a bill on health care reform last fall.

Almost as bad, Republicans leaders violated the informal rules for discussing the bill and even threatened one of their own members in order to pass the bill (the member has curiously become quiet after his initial claim). There has also been name-calling, but so far no hand-to-hand combat.

Korea's current and future leaders would do well to look at the dignified way Al Gore conducted himself during and after the 2000 presidential election. Not only did he win the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, the state where the vote was closest and most controversial, Florida, just happened to be run by his opponent's brother.

Al Gore (right) with Bush
Not surprisingly, the state came out in favor of Gore's opponent. One could easily make the argument that the outcome was unfair. Yet, even when a conservative and politicized Supreme Court narrowly ruled against Gore, he and the American public quietly and honorably accepted the verdict. Could such a think happen in Korea?

With one minor exception, all of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have come out squarely behind the presumptive nominee, Sen. John Kerry. Even the most emotional and “Korean-like” of the candidates, Howard Dean, is now actively supporting Kerry. In contrast, a few days ago the Korean press carried a picture of a man who had to be physically restrained because he failed to win the nomination from one of the parties.

We will find out on April 15 if the National Assembly can open a new chapter and transform Korean politics from being a source of embarrassment into a source of pride. The American experience would suggest that the road will be long, but the Korean people deserve nothing less.



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Related Articles     
    "We Have a Long Way to Go": LG Executive
    South Korea's Leader Roh Moo-hyun Reinstated
    "Vox Populi, That's the Constitution"
    "Big 3" Dailies Blamable for Roh's Impeachment
    Impeachment Makes Korea Laughing Stock
    S. Korea Questions Direction of Latest Step
    President's Impeachment Stirs Angry Protests ...
    South Korean President Roh Impeached ...



Dr. Peter M. Beck serves as director of Research & Academic Affairs of Korea Economic Institute (KEI) in Washington DC. He also teaches at such universities as Georgetown and American as adjunct faculty member. Dr. Beck contributes to a number of newspapers including The Seoul Times and Chosun Ilbo.

 

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  Related Articles     
    "We Have a Long Way to Go": LG Executive
    South Korea's Leader Roh Moo-hyun Reinstated
    "Vox Populi, That's the Constitution"
    "Big 3" Dailies Blamable for Roh's Impeachment
    Impeachment Makes Korea Laughing Stock
    S. Korea Questions Direction of Latest Step
    President's Impeachment Stirs Angry Protests ...
    South Korean President Roh Impeached ...



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