Cooperation is a two-way street
President Yoon Suk-yeol addressed the National Assembly on Monday for the first time since his inauguration last Tuesday to plead for the speedy approval of a supplementary budget intended primarily to help small traders who have suffered from the restrictions of Covid-19.
Yoon chose a bluish-colored tie – the official color of the Democratic Party (DP) – and stopped to greet lawmakers while heading to the podium. He bowed to the representatives of the DP and the Justice Party and approached their seats after delivering his speech. His gesture was applauded by his People Power Party (PPP). Sight should be common in democracies. But in Korea, presidents are often booed and manhandled by rival parties when they appear in the National Assembly.
During his 18-minute address, Yoon repeatedly called for the policy of cooperation. “The gravity of the challenges and the crisis we face today requires cooperation across ideological and partisan differences,” he said, citing the coalition government that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill formed with Labor Party leader Clement Attlee during World War II. “A true free democracy is based on legislative faith. The legislature is the center of governance,” he said.
“We may have different political values in South Korea, but we need a partnership like that of Churchill and Attlee to overcome the crisis together.” He pledged to discuss important state affairs with leaders and legislative members and called for bipartisan support on pension, labor and education reforms. If delayed further, he said, Korea’s sustainability could be jeopardized.
It is only natural that the president first paid his respects to the legislature. He asked all PPP members to attend the Gwangju Democratization Movement Memorial Day on May 18 and the party kept his promise. But the length of any honeymoon period cannot be certain. All the presidents promised to cooperate at the start of their term, but backed down in the face of strong opposition from rival parties. Yoon and the PPP need to make continuous efforts. Efforts should be made to build trust and share experiences in order to achieve a true partnership.
The DP must not remain recalcitrant. Yoon proposed a soju night with members of the legislative executive and leaders of three major political parties in hopes of a breakthrough in stalled confirmation of prime minister candidate Han Duck-soo. The DP, however, declined. If the party that controls 168 seats in the assembly goes all out to oppose, it could lose public support. The DP must be open-minded and willing to cooperate if necessary.