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Ra Jong Yil is national security advisor to Republic of Korea President Roh Moo Hyun.

By Ra Jong Yil

SEOUL- Over the past 40 years, having cast off the poverty of cyclical famines and the authoritarian system, the Republic of Korea has grown into the world's 12th largest economic powerhouse. It has undergone a metamorphic change into a democratic political system.

Still, Korea has numerous difficult challenges to meet ahead before it can be an advanced democracy in the genuine sense of the word or have a fair market economy.

The most important and difficult reform involves ending what we call the "Caesarean presidency."

In our country, all power and authority are concentrated in one person, the president, who has not only had control of his party and the National Assembly but also occasionally mobilized important national organizations to maintain and shore up his power. In the past, a strong president has been considered necessary, and accepted as a matter of fact, in order to develop the economy and maintain security vis a vis the North.

The problem, however, is that the Caesarean presidential system impedes the normal development of free democracy. The abnormal concentration of power inevitably invites corruption and other irregularities. As a matter of course, all past presidents of Korea and their associates were plagued by scandals and even faced criminal charges toward the end of their tenures.

President Roh Moo Hyun intends to radically cast off these past practices. To begin with, he has cut off relations with his political party and set powerful state organizations free of his control so that they can carry out their functions independently. As he has made clear, he intends to realize a "normal U.S.-style presidential system."

The experiment must succeed in order to ensure the normal development of Korea in the future. Yet it is a difficult task. The most formidable challenge is whether or not the president can display strong leadership without the backing of a political party and the National Assembly, which his predecessors enjoyed.

The president's popularity has dipped from the early stage of his term, and he has been criticized by political opponents as being inefficient. And this, in turn, led him to submit himself of his own accord to a public test of confidence to renew his mandate.

This is a trying time for Korea. But reform cannot be avoided. Korea's test today is whether it can create enough momentum to lift itself to a higher level of development.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 11/11/03)