[OUTLOOK]How to Avoid Becoming a Lame Duck

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[OUTLOOK]How to Avoid Becoming a Lame Duck

What should a president do when there is only a year and a half left in his single five-year term? Suh Jin-young, a political science professor at Korea University, said the leader would be inclined to give priority to keeping people's attention on himself, giving orders and reinforcing his governance during the rest of his term. Despite forecasts that he would be a lame duck, the leader would brace his spirits and work harder.

In the last administration, President Kim Young-sam demanded and received an apology from the North for its submarine infiltration and gained political momentum for his party's eventual success in the general election. Mr. Kim said, "I will never be a lame duck; I will maintain power." He changed the direction of reform within the government from moralism to pragmatism.

During the summer of 1991, presidential candidate Kim Young-sam's stubborn obsession with gaining power baffled then-President Roh Tae-woo. But a Blue House secretary remembered that Mr. Roh did not fear the lame-duck phenomenon because he governed with a light hand even in the early stages of his term. He could devote the later part of his presidency to North-South relations and succeeded in producing the North-South Basic Agreement. President Kim Dae-jung, who is currently rearranging the political arena, would probably be inclined to do the same, but the political situation is different.

The recent media tax investigations have heated up confrontation, ideological conflicts and partisan strife among intellectuals in our society. Now the conflict has spread to the political arena and has also become a battle between the media and the government.

Relations with the United States and with Japan have become rough. In the Park Chung Hee and Syngman Rhee administrations, when Korea-U.S. relations cooled off, the repercussions were felt in domestic politics. That situation was repeated in the Kim Young-sam administration; Washington and Seoul disagreed over North Korean issues and Tokyo and Seoul fought over the issue of Japan's wrongdoings in the past. During the Asian financial crisis, Mr. Kim sought support from the United States and Japan but his requests were ignored. Currently relations among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are weaker than the bonds among the North, China and Russia.

The ruling party sees no dissipation of its power in domestic affairs. Although this administration is unpopular, the opposition party leader Lee Hoi-chang gained no support, to the relief of the ruling camp. With Mr. Lee gaining no political ground, the ruling party is working to continue its dominance in the next election.

What should President Kim do for the rest of his term? Although the opposition criticized him for being a "monarchial president," this lame-duck president has enough power only to disturb his rivals, but does not have effective policy alternatives to rule the country. Audits and inspections, the traditional punitive methods of governance, have a limit.

The current administration has used civic movements in order to reinforce the leadership of the minority ruling party, but those groups now face an obstacle. The bar association criticized them for violating the law and the opposition accused them of being the Red Guards of the government.

The terms of lawmakers and the term of the president end at different time. Such a structure causes new variables in national governance and management of power. President Kim cannot nominate his party's lawmakers for the next general election. Then, what can he do to maintain his hold?

Most of all, he should try to regain public confidence. Spilt pubic opinion is never a help for government policy, especially at the end of a president's term. North Korea policy without national consensus is destined to fail, and reform will not be easily done. President Kim should refurbish the unity of the people in order to carry out his policies.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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