April 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Korea: Korea Herald: Dr. Larry Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, says President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Korea: Peace Corps Korea : The Peace Corps in Korea: April 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Korea: Korea Herald: Dr. Larry Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, says President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

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Dr. Larry Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, says President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

Dr. Larry Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, says   President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

Dr. Larry Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, says President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

President Roh's leadership to be tested in new Assembly

The following is the last in a series of contributions on the outlook for post-election politics by political scientists. - Ed.

By Larry Lustig

The Uri Party has become the majority party, barely, and the Democratic Labor Party the third largest in the National Assembly largely on the strength of popular backlash from the impeachment of President Roh at the hands of the big loser on April 15, the Millennium Democratic Party.

The DLP success is striking in that prior to the elections the party had zero seats. The implication is that not only impeachment-backlash but also exploitation and oppression in the ROK may account for some of the votes cast April 15.

Based upon recent reports about the various Uri Party factions, it would not be surprising to see a chunk of so-called left-wing Uri Party members move to the DLP, where they would appear to belong.

The other big news is the general surprise that the Grand National Party did as well as it did, managing to capture 121 seats in the nation's legislature, although it supported the impeachers. The GNP apparently represents some quite resilient, not to say powerful, interests.

Virtually all of the consequential issues before the Assembly are controversial, including "taking care of the people," which is reported to be of concern, even fear, to the business community and to investors, both foreign and domestic.

It remains to be seen what sorts of adjusting, compromising, fidgeting, fitting, and deal-making will be necessary to get much of anything done in the legislature. Democratic gridlock is a distinct possibility, if not a likelihood, in which case the call to get "back to business as usual" will be superfluous.

In this context, of course, President Roh's leadership in setting a course for the nation will certainly be tested, assuming the Constitutional Court decides in his favor.

We do not expect much by way of substantive change from the surge in "woman power" as reflected in the election results because we understand the claim that women are less selfish than men to be a product of either idiocy or dishonesty.

We do expect the troop dispatch and the National Security Law to be among the spate of issues the Assembly will be obliged to resolve, however controversial they are.

The important issues include also a dysfunctional public and private educational system that begins by teaching youngsters the importance of sharing in the very early years, and ends with the individual pot of gold at the end of professional training at either SKY or HYP for the nations up-and-coming elite, regardless of their "mindset."

At least, it used to be that way. These days, even the SNU degree may mean not only unemployment, but especially bitter unemployment when the whole point was presumably to get a soft professional job with a high paycheck.

The nation loses because the result is that the professional expertise is there but is going unused. A chunk of it, of course, is going to greener pastures in Canada, the U.S., Britain, Germany, and elsewhere.

What, if anything, the Assembly will have to say, let alone do about this, remains to be seen.

In between the sharing and the individual prestige and pelf lie years of arduous study when, "If you sleep more than four hours daily, you will never succeed" and "Whenever you sleep, others are getting ahead of you."

Also remember that lower-middle-class parents struggle for years to give their kids half a chance to "succeed," spending a lot, and often going into serious debt, on private institutes and private tutoring for their kids.

Confucius says yes to equal opportunity, and good parents naturally add, "Yes, but a little EXTRA opportunity for OUR kids!"

Also symptomatic are the occasional yet ongoing student suicides as the most newsworthy tips of the iceberg of student discontent here.

In short, the education issue is complex and systemic. It is unlikely that any mere reforms will be able to accomplish much by way of patching things up. How will the new Assembly address this issue?

Real estate, the stock market, interest rate, exchange rate, and other forms of speculation, are another issue which, like the former, results in the nation spending wastefully - i.e., some continue to get something for nothing at the expense of those who get nothing for something. As long as money can be used to get more money, the nation has to adjust its goals to take into account this form of ripoff in the absence of the will to eradicate it.

The income gap is regularly reported to be rising. Does any such rise ever constitute "going too far"? Apparently not, so long as "the middle class" remains stable.

It is here that the issue of freedom becomes a practical issue that is fought out between those who understand freedom as tantamount to the freedom to exploit, and those who understand freedom as freedom from exploitation, whether at capitalist or professional hands.

Hence labor vs. management. Hence10 seats from zero for the DLP and a left-wing faction within the Uri Party. Hence the wars of the past century. Hence investor confidence or concern. And, hence the occasional family-suicide here in the ROK where, as Donald Rumsfeld said on his recent visit, "So many people are doing so many wonderful things."

Labor-management relations are expected to continue on the rocky road they have traversed for a long time now, with the "spring struggle" set for next month despite the 10 DLP seats.

The constant pleas for dialogue, debate, bargaining, compromise and good will, iinstead of taking to the street in violation of law and order, are likely to continue to fall on deaf ears as long as the government tries in vain to mediate between opponents of decidedly unequal power when management has the cards stacked heavily in its favor.

President Roh may as well try to negotiate on an equal basis with the commander-in-chief of the world's superpower.

Instances of conflict with the U.S. Forces Korea are expected to continue to arise from time to time as they have for the past half century or more. These will also likely continue to be discussed and "dealt with" as isolated, discrete cases, rather than as indications of systemic issues that arise from the presence of a lone superpower's military personnel numbering in the tens of thousands on the peninsula, thousands of them as of this writing still located in the heart of the nation's capital.

Awareness on the part of the authorities of possible and actual problems arising from this awkwardly placed garrison has motivated the reported decision to relocate those forces southward and to make the footprint smaller.

In the weeks leading up to the recent elections, it was reported here that the South Korean government would pay all the expenses for the relocation "as Seoul wants it."

We expect that the DLP, if not the Uri Party, will at least want to offer taxpaying South Koreans a better explanation than that, especially in light of comments such as the following from no less an authority than Paul Wolfowitz in March 2002: "What we were afraid of was people who would say?" 'Let's bring all of the troops home?"

If the lone superpower's elite can be afraid of what some misguided or treacherous people might say, then surely something more complex than "as Seoul wants the relocation" is at issue.

Some years ago the official line on the rationale for the U.S. troop presence changed from deterring aggression from North Korea to North-deterrence plus security for the region.

It seems now that security for the region is in the process of displacing the earlier North-deterrence rationale as ROK military forces assume responsibility for the latter, and that the United States wishes to use ROK territory as a staging-area for forces who can be rapidly deployed to other areas in the Far East if necessary.

I leave it to others to explain what that has to do with ROK national interests, let alone any interest in reunifying the peninsula going on a half century-plus of division, any cultural interest either in saving face and dignity, or in promoting a decent international image.

In any case, do not expect this issue to fade away any time soon. We expect the DLP and left-wing Uri Party members, if no one else, to raise the issue in the Assembly this summer.

Corruption here is not merely an issue of "instances" of illicit gain, whether inside or outside government circles, as is indicated in the widely used label "Republic of Corruption." Again, the issue is a systemic one, and again, the question is to what extent the hope that reforms can virtually, let alone entirely, eradicate those instances is or is not a credible hope. If not, then hope is dope.

This much is clear. Were the Great Florentine asked about political prospects here, his response would be that national liberation to include reunification in the absence of foreign troops is the first step toward realistically tackling the other issues mentioned above.

For the rest, Tami "Yosemite Sam" Overby is right: talk's cheap, and action is what counts. The dailies' obligation to the public is less to speculate about prospects, much more to tell the people what is happening in their country and whose interests are primarily served.

In this effort, of course, the press will need sources in addition to AmCham Korea, to mention only one of many.

Dr. Lustig, ex-soldier of USFK and ex-Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, is professor of social and political philosophy at University of Maryland University College-Asia/Korea. - Ed.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

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Story Source: Korea Herald

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