[EDITORIALS]The truth will set him free

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[EDITORIALS]The truth will set him free

"I apologize to the nation," President Kim Dae-jung began his nationally televised New Year news conference, which proceeded in a gloomy atmosphere. Mr. Kim, compared with the lively message he gave last year, looked old and sounded less vigorous. He even gave the impression that he was beginning the last year of his five-year term with a sense of emptiness, apologizing to the public and facing state affairs in disarray, just as his predecessor, Kim Young-sam, did. The conference overflowed with contrition and fell short of displaying a fresh commitment to concluding his presidency and inviting public participation in his initiatives.

As President Kim confessed, he was stunned by a spate of corruption and influence-peddling scandals involving his key appointees and aides. Then, how can he revive his embattled administration? Ironically enough, the news conference made a convincing case that Mr. Kim cannot put the government back in order without getting to the bottom of the truth about those scandals. Without clearing away corruption, the current administration would not be able to have the power to implement three other major tasks Mr. Kim suggested - boosting the nation's economic competitiveness, enhancing the lives of the middle and low-income classes and improving relationships with North Korea.

The same applies to the four major national events - the World Cup soccer matches, the Asian Games, the elections for heads of regional governments in June and the December presidential election. Top decision-makers in the Kim Dae-jung administration must have an "unrelenting resolution" to eradicate corruption, as Mr. Kim pledged during the news conference.

The president's remarks hinted at complacency and carelessness in his diagnosis and perception of current state affairs. "Despite some discontent, my appointments [of key government posts] have made significant progress, compared with those of the past," he said generously. There sits a huge gap between his judgment and the public's conception. The public believes that the foul stench of cronyism and cover-ups coming from each scandal are the result of the Kim Dae-jung regime's favoritism. At the center of the public resentment has long been a regional bias in the making of appointments. If Mr. Kim is to put into practice his promise to make fairer appointments, he should take the issue more seriously.

Speaking of a possible cabinet reshuffle, Mr. Kim said, "Overwhelmed by a series of scandals, I have not been able to take time and think about it." But more than two months have passed since he resigned as head of the governing Millennium Democratic Party, raising the need to overhaul his cabinet. The president has to decide soon whether Prime Minister Lee Han-dong and ministers from his party will leave or stay. The more time Mr. Kim takes, the less stability his government will have.

A news conference by a president in his last year on the job is supposed to display his leadership and mature statesmanship to leave a legacy and to raise the predictability of the government at a transitional period. Only by doing so can a president lay the foundation for "national prosperity," as Mr. Kim said that he wants to do. From such a perspective, Monday's news conference was a failure. Indeed, some critics described it as lethargic.

If the president wants to overcome such criticism, there is no other way but to commit himself fully to clearing corruption and carrying out state affairs, detaching himself from politics and from elections.
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