SEOUL — South Korea’s 16th general election for the National Assembly held two weeks ago was hardly a mandate for President Kim Dae Jung’s ruling Millennium Democratic Party. Although it forced Kim to reach out to the opposition Grand National Party, it has not impaired his ability and authority to govern. He can thank the power of the office he holds under a presidential as opposed to a parliamentary system. Indeed, that is perhaps the main reason why he has been reluctant to support South Korea’s transition toward the latter, as advocated by his erstwhile Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil and coalition partner — a principal factor precipitating their breakup.
Kim Jong Pil thought he had the nod for the top job in the next administration under a new system. As it turned out, his party (the United Liberal Democrats) fell below the threshold minimum (20 seats) to form a parliamentary group, although it still holds the balance of power in a new coalition since neither the MDP or GNP secured a clear majority in the National Assembly.