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6 months on, Park rides high

Ratings are better than predecessors’ but plummeted at points  PLAY AUDIO

Aug 23,2013
The six-month report card for the Park Geun-hye administration is in, and grades are good for foreign affairs and its handling of North Korea.

But the president got flunking grades for the top appointments in her administration and her recent tax reform plan, which was going to raise millions of people’s tax bills.

Sunday will be the six-month mark of Park’s presidency and analysis of her approval ratings showed they were lowest at the start and at the time of several botched appointments.

But at 54 percent in a Gallup Korea survey and 61.1 percent in a Realmeter survey, her ratings are now much higher than her two predecessors at the same point in their terms.

After taking the oath of office on Feb. 25, Park took a lot of time to complete her Blue House secretariat and cabinet. According to Gallup Korea’s survey, her approval rating was 41 percent during the first week of April. That was the lowest during the past six months. A survey by Realmeter at the time showed that only 45 percent of the public gave her positive reviews.

The first hurdle for Park after her inauguration was amending the law on government organization to create the new Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

President Park Geun-hye, center, applauds yesterday at the International Conference for Woman Scientists and Engineers held at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul. [Joint Press Corps]
On March 4, Kim Jeong-hun, her nominee to head the new ministry, abruptly gave up the nomination. Park went on television to lament Kim’s quitting and pressure the opposition Democratic Party to accept her restructuring plan.

Throughout March, nomination fiascoes continued. Several nominees to top posts withdrew due to problems in their pasts that hadn’t been spotted in the administration’s screening process.

Among them was Kim Byung-kwan, the defense minister nominee who stepped down over various scandals including hiding stock ownership in an overseas resources developer.

Kim Hak-eui, nominee to be vice minister of the Ministry of Justice, resigned after he was implicated in a sex-for-influence scandal and Hwang Chul-joo, CEO of Jusung Engineering, gave up his nomination to head the Small and Medium Business Administration because he didn’t want to put his personal assets into a blind trust.

While the National Assembly approved the government restructuring bill on March 22, the Park Blue House still floundered on its damage control.

On March 30, the presidential chief of staff issued an apology to the nation for the botched nominations. But the 17-second apology issued on a Saturday morning and read by a spokeswoman only invited more public scorn.

The good side was that Park’s approval ratings steadily rose - until the latest tax reform controversy.

On Aug. 8, the government announced a plan to cut tax credits to raise revenues to finance wider welfare programs and the working-class population started howling about the increases to their tax bills. On Aug. 12, Park tried to get a grip on the situation and ordered her economic team to reconsider the plan.

According to a Gallup Korea poll announced last Friday, Park’s approval rating went down to 54 percent during the third week of August, dropping five percentage points from the previous week.

“Six months have passed since the Park administration was launched, but the people only agree with national security issues,” said Representative Chung Woo-taik of the Saenuri Party. “They don’t know what the government is doing about matters linked to people’s livelihoods. In the end, the economy will be the critical issue that will determine the success or failure of the Park government.”

Before the tax reform controversy, Park’s approval rating plummeted by five percentage points twice. It went down in the aftermath of a scandal involving Blue House spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, who was investigated for a sexual assault on a young female intern of the Korean Embassy in Washington, during Park’s presidential trip. Yoon flew back to Korea before Washington DC police could take any action on the complaint.

Park also faced a drop in approval ratings when the National Intelligence Service declassified and released to lawmakers its copy of a transcript of the 2007 inter-Korean summit in the middle of the political battle between the ruling and opposition parties.

But after her rocky start, Park’s approval rating steadily went up during her first six months. According to Gallup Korea, her rating started at 41 percent and went up to 56 percent during the second week of May. It peaked at 63 percent during the first week of July.

The rise is attributed to her North Korea policy. On Aug. 14, Park saw her first clear victory in the policy when the two Koreas agreed to restart operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Park’s visit to the United States in early May, and to China in late June, were evaluated as successes. Her approval rating was highest in the first week of July, shortly after she came back from China.

Park’s approval rating is also higher than her predecessors. At the six-month mark, she scored 54 percent in the Gallup Korea survey and 61.1 percent in the Realmeter survey.

President Roh Moo-hyun started his term with a 60 percent approval rating, but after six months it went down to 29 percent. President Lee Myung-bak, Park’s predecessor, started with 52 percent but it plummeted to 24 percent.

“Park’s approval rating is considerably higher than her predecessors because she’s showing her principles and stressing the importance of trust,” said Ahn Boo-keun, chairman of The Opinion, a polling institute. “If the president makes a mistake, the opposition party should be able to benefit from the falling approval rating. But right now, the weak opposition party is incapable of doing so. That allowed Park’s approval rating to remain high.”

“As you can see in the appointment scandal and tax reform controversy, her approval rating goes down when she fails to read public sentiment and to communicate properly,” said Choi Jin, head of the Institute of Presidential Leadership. “Instead of an icy attitude based on fundamentalism, she needs to employ a warm fundamentalism to move the people’s sentiments.”




BY SHIN YONG-HO, SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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