[EDITORIAL] The President's Midterm Grades

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[EDITORIAL] The President's Midterm Grades

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of President Kim Dae-jung's inauguration, and evaluations of his performance so far vary widely, depending on political affiliation and position. In contrast to Prime Minister Lee Han-dong's assessment that the president has already iaaccomplished halflo of what he set out to do, the opposition has belittled the Kim administration as one of "total misgovernment." The man-in-the- street opinion appears to fall somewhere between, as shown in recent polls that put the president's popularity rating at about half of what it was when he took office.

President Kim has done a considerable amount of work in the past three years. He instituted policies to initiate rapprochement and cooperation with North Korea, and it is especially encouraging to see them bearing fruit. If the upcoming visit to Seoul by North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il establishes a mechanism that will ensure lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, we believe that in itself will be enough to assure President Kim's place in history. The special circumstances of the North-South summit meeting do not, however, mitigate the problems of a lack of transparency and closed-door dealings that have characterized the rapprochement process so far. In the future, dealings with the North should be carried out openly.

President Kim's quick action to bring the economy around during the financial crisis, which had just begun when he took office, is one of his most important accomplishments, but buoyed by the early success of his administration's measures, he failed to follow up with the bold systemic and structural overhaul the economy needed until it was too late, bringing about the painful economic situation we find ourselves in now and casting a shadow over his earlier achievements. The administration's social security policies, conceptualized as the basis for a productive welfare society, created a social safety net for the poor and will become a steppingstone toward the development of a truly sound society.

These good marks are blurred, unfortunately, by just as many bad ones. By choosing to maintain a hostile stance against the opposition instead of accepting its criticism with an open mind, the administration has caused constant political instability and brought about divisions in the national consensus to the point where the citizen- ry find the political scene annoying and tiresome. Rather than giving top priority to much-needed political reform, the president's team has reverted to old-style political vendettas and the rule of might.

As we have seen in its recent iemedia reformle activities, this government's tactic of trying to seize public sentiment is socially divisive. And in the reform of the medical sector, we saw our "prepared president" push ahead in an unreasonable, unprepared fashion. Other failings the president should reflect upon include growing region- alism due to predominance of personnel from his home region in government offices as well as problems with corporate reform, which not only are lagging but also go against sound economic principles.

President Kim has only two years left in office. Rather than starting new projects, he should see that the policies he has already instituted are properly carried out. If President Kim falls into the political trap of being tempted to hold on to the reins of power for another term, the glory of his Nobel Prize will fade. Hopefully, the remainder of Kim Dae-jung's office will prove that his idea of a ifstrong governmentle is one that promotes political harmony and takes a demo cratic view of the importance of public opinion.
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