[NOTEBOOK]Presidential Decision-Making

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[NOTEBOOK]Presidential Decision-Making

President Kim Dae-jung liked to debate when he was an opposition leader. He never made a decision quickly. He talked with many people, asked their advice and studied their reactions to his ideas. In this way, he slowly formulated his opinions.

This was one noticeable difference between President Kim Dae-jung and former President Kim Young-sam. The former president retracted a decision right away if he realized he was going the wrong way. In contrast, Kim Dae-jung reformulates his position bit by bit, backing it up with reason. As he says, "How can you persuade the public if you cannot persuade the people around you?"

Kim Dae-jung did not seem to change much when he first became president. He asked to "keep talking until the last minute" when medical practitioners went on strike and unions protested restructuring.

But the way the president dealt with a motion to unseat Prime Minister Lee Han-dong shows his methods have changed. Rather than rallying assemblymen to vote against the proposal, the ruling party torpedoed the vote by ordering a majority of its party's lawmakers to abstain from casting ballots.

Did he not trust his own party members? Was he worried about the possibility of some desertions to express dissatisfaction over Mr. Lee's qualifications as a prime minister? Did he fail to persuade his own party's lawmakers of the necessity of a three-party coalition? Or was it simply that Mr. Kim could not trust the judgment of his own legislators? There is a sense of crisis in the ruling party. "Just imagine what would have happened if the proposal had been adopted," said a Blue House official. The United Liberal Democrats would have made things difficult, the coalition would have been strained and the Millennium Democratic Party would have lost their majority.

The MDP is imitating the tactics that it once blasted the Grand National Party for using - tactics that violate the secrecy of such ballots.

The political confrontation is unlikely to improve during the remainder of the president's term. The closer the next presidential election, the more severe the disputes. The most serious problem is that the ruling party has lost confidence in its leadership ability. A loss of confidence leads to antagonism and distrust.

"Everything is going wrong these days," sighed a Blue House secretary. The helplessness in the Blue House is not solely due to political frustrations. People are anxious about falling stock prices and exports and rising exchange rates and consumer prices. The failures in education policy, the new cleft in North-South Korean relations, increasing unemployment and dissatisfaction in labor unions resulted in a bad showing for the ruling party in local elections.

The no-confidence vote highlighted again the limitations of the alliance among the ULD, the Democratic People's Party and the MDP, prompting calls in the ruling party for a shakeup. The dangers of this confusion are far-reaching.

Does the president's abandonment of his former methods of dialogue and compromise indicate a critical failing in Korean politics?



- The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Jin-kook

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