[EDITORIALS]A One-Way DialogueOn Wednesday in South Gyeongsang province, an unpleasant incident happened at a gathering for President Kim Dae-jung. President Kim was in Changwon to be briefed by the South Gyeongsang province government. He also had a discussion session with representative residents of the province. In that discussion, the chairman of the South Gyeongsang provincial office of the Korean Farmers League was dragged out of the building by presidential bodyguards, his mouth gagged by their hands. The incident came immediately after the man stood up and said, "I have things to say to Mr. President." The Blue House explained that it had prohibited him from bringing in a placard and that he didn't get the floor.
It is common practice for presidential bodyguards to hold in check unprepared activities in events for the president." On the other hand, representatives from the League protested, "He was about to tell the president how hard the sharp drop in the rice price was for farmers. Why did bodyguards keep the president from hearing a voice of the people?"
This unfortunate incident can have serious ramifications, especially since there is public opinion that President Kim is not keen to the people's mood. The discussion session with representative residents is planned as part of the schedule whenever the president goes to the provinces. After the briefing by governors, the president usually has a meal with representative residents. The idea is for the president to explain national policies to the people to broaden consensus for his policies or to hear directly from the people. The discussion session has become a custom and usually proceeds based on a prewritten scenario. However, it has been noted that the president dominates these sessions and the people's voice is hardly heard. Furthermore, since the security of the president is involved, the session can seem unnatural and stiff. The representatives of the League said, "We cannot see any meaning in the session if it is only to have a meal and shake hands with the president."
The incident was somewhat unavoidable because presidential bodyguards should immediately respond to any unexpected situation. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, the trend for every country is to strengthen security measures for important figures. The problem was in the sloppy preparations that the presidential secretaries and government officials concerned provided for the presidential schedule. Farmers are full of worries because the price of rice and its consumption are decreasing while at the same time rice is a bumper crop this year. Farmers are very angry with the government because they think that they are facing this puzzling situation due to the government's rice policy.
Government officials should have provided time in the discussion session for the president to hear the real voices of farmers. Because President Kim's recent visit to the provinces is to learn how to reduce the pain of farmers, the sessions should have been two-way dialogues. Due to the sloppiness of Mr. Kim's senior secretaries, the president's interest in reducing the farmers' pain didn't receive enough attention. That is why critics have said the discussion sessions as nothing but unilateral words from the president, and said that the government is reluctant to hear sharp rebukes from the people.
The Blue House should not consider the incident in Changwon as a simple happening by presidential bodyguards on duty. It has to pay more attention to coming up with programs that would get the president closer to the people.