[VIEWPOINT]Bland presidents need not fail

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[VIEWPOINT]Bland presidents need not fail

Only one year separates us from the next presidential election. The changes in our society wrought by the economic slump and fierce political wrangling have stoked the people's desire for an excellent leader, more so than at any other time. In other words, the people want a president with leadership ability who has high moral standards, a strong vision for reform and a wealth of administrative experience. They are looking for a "messiah."

However, Korea's presidential elections historically have been determined by the plutocracy, which is based on regionalism and cozy relations between politicians and people in the business world, and by irrational voter behavior, like voting for a candidate based not on policies but on the candidate's regional origins or personality.

A candidate with high moral standards, a wealth of administrative experience and the ability to run the nation successfully would encounter great difficulty winning a presidential election in Korea.

Under these circumstances, Koreans should focus on how they can help an ordinary president run the country successfully, rather than trying to find a messiah in the next presidential election.

In Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter of the United States, we have examples of a successful president (Eisenhower) who was at first regarded as not having the qualifications for the presidency but was seen finally as running the country successfully, and a president (Carter) who was at first regarded as having enough qualifications for the presidency but failed to run the country successfully.

Mr. Eisenhower, a military man who was regarded as not highly sophisticated, entrusted his aides and cabinet members with enough power to run the country efficiently.

Mr. Carter, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with an impressive record and was regarded as a man of high morality, ended his tenure as a failure. He had conducted state affairs to the smallest details. No wonder he achieved little.

How well a president runs a country depends not on his personal disposition but on the systematic organizational support of his aides and administrative branches.

President Lyndon Johnson of the United States wrote in his memoirs that the presidency is above an individual president himself; the presidency can make a person look better than he is - even though he may be of scant ability or substance. He also says the presidency is a magic post that cannot be filled fully even with the greatest man.

In Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party and Rhee In-je of the Democratic Millennium Party, the major hopefuls for the next presidential election, we cannot see strong charisma. This time we will not have a presidential election with candidates like Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, who displayed strong leadership, who made our heart beat.

In the next presidential election, we will have to choose the "less foolish candidate" rather than the "better candidate." But this is not necessarily an entirely bad thing. Although those people who are looking for a great leader with strong charisma will be disappointed, the situation can be very fortunate for Korea, which has seen charismatic leaders fail to run the country successfully. Because now we can, for the first time, take interest in the campaign teams and policy-making teams that support the candidates, rather than the presidential candidates themselves, who do not make much difference in the end.

The presidential candidates should recognize that they do not have the qualifications for the presidency and make up for their shortcomings with an excellent campaign team and aides. The candidate with the aides who suggest the best policies to solve the nation's problems will have the advantage over candidates who have only personal attraction. In the next election, we should choose a "well prepared candidate," who is counseled by "well prepared aides." We should make him the first "president of success" in Korean history.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University.

by Hahm Sung-deuk

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