[INSIGHT]Thoughts on Mr. Kim's health

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[INSIGHT]Thoughts on Mr. Kim's health

While not many expressed their anxiety, a lot of people must have felt some last week. Some sensitive souls might have even felt a sense of panic. As fortune would have it, President Kim Dae-jung, who was hospitalized April 9, has recovered and signed out of the hospital.

Needless to say, in a country where power and final authority are vested in the president, it is a vital matter of state whether the president can carry out his duties properly. When the president was suddenly hospitalized in the middle of the night, with all his three sons implicated in one sort of scandal or another, obviously people are going to wonder if there is a danger of the president cracking under pressure. Foreign businessmen and other decision-making figures in Seoul, not to mention diplomats and intelligence officers, must have had been on alert and busy last week because of this "what if."

There was still another reason for heightened concern when the president left the Blue House for the hospital last week. At that time, the prime minister was away on a foreign trip, and one deputy prime minister was already rumored to be resigning ?which he did on Saturday ?in order to run for governor of Gyeonggi province. For a short but undeniable period of time last week, the leadership in Korea flickered precariously. According to official announcements, nothing of any consequence happened during that time, but the thought of unexpected, serious events is enough to send a shiver down one's spine.

In any country when a leader falls sick, the symptoms are described as less severe than they actually are. Are the reasons officially cited for the president's sudden hospitalization ?"fatigue" and "lack of nutrition due to gastrointestinal trouble" ?accurate?

Some thought that a lack of nutrition is not a likely condition for the president of a country. Some said the explanation that the president hadn't eaten for three or four days before being hospitalized sounded unconvincing. Suspicions like these, however groundless, could snowball into serious apprehensions. With all the concern that was triggered by Mr. Kim's hospitalization, we should take the opportunity to review our contingency plans in case of a leadership vacuum.

Our government administration has no system in place to address a president's incapacitation. The administration of the country must go on no matter who is hospitalized or leaves on a trip. Administration should be carried out on the basis of law, systems and the conscientiousness of civil servants to serve the national interest. We have been relying for too long on "charismatic leadership" and "imperial presidents." Flattery and self-preservation have been the guidelines for government affairs, not law and systems. When there is no one to flatter or to take orders from, the structure starts to shake and confusion reigns.

Another aspect we should review after this incident is how medical announcements are made and what they contain. It is important that the explanations of medical problems be well drawn up to reassure the public that there is no cause for serious concern. The announcement by the Blue House that the president was suffering from a "lack of nutrition," even if it was true, was not followed up with any details that would put our minds at ease. Also, announcing that the overworked president would now "drastically cut any ostentatious or unnecessary and nonurgent work" was a terrible idea. From this announcement we understand that the president has gone to the extent of compromising his health with "ostentatious or unnecessary and non-urgent work."

Our government has a lot of business to take care of. The World Cup is looming, and the local elections and the presidential election are announcing their imminence with a burst of political strife and antagonism. The economy has started to show signs of recovery, but that is all the more reason to work even harder. Scooping up the piles of corruption permeating high places is work enough all alone.

These are times when leadership, daring decisions and vigorous administration by our president is needed more than ever. Can an elderly, fatigued president, plagued with family problems, give what we need? How can we say our country is fine when our president isn't? The president must recover his ease of mind and his physical health. For the sake of his health, he must unload himself of the burden of being in charge of everything, taking the opportunity to establish a better system of delegated leadership.

Another prescription for our president is to make a quick decision on the problems of his sons. The president can't stay healthy when the Blue House is under attack because of his family.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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