[VIEWPOINT]Fear the voters, succeed in officeLee Myung-bak, the mayor of Seoul, is already under attack by the media and the public for his behavior, which has disappointed not only the citizens who stood by him strongly but also the people who voted against him in the local election last month. I am not a citizen of Seoul under the law, but that makes me no less a Seoulite. When Mr. Lee was elected as mayor, I supported and expected so much of him.
Mr. Lee pledged during his campaign to restore the Cheonggyecheon, a stream that once ran through downtown Seoul but was completely covered by roads about 30 years ago. He has achieved a lot in his life, and I thought the famous slogan of the World Cup, "Please, show us your ability," matched him as much as it matched Guus Hiddink, the former coach of the national soccer team.
But before Mr. Lee showed off his ability to the people supporting him, he showed off the faces of his son and son-in-law, who posed in photographs with Mr. Hiddink during an official event to present an award to the Dutch coach.
The following day the mayor gave a speech at a reunion for his wife's college held in Gyeonggi province, despite a nationwide typhoon alert. He planted ominous misgiving in the citizens' minds that he may be a public official who cannot distinguish between public and private matters. It is all quite disappointing to the people.
Someone might think that Mr. Lee is a thoughtful father who takes care of his imprudent son and a nice guy who loves his wife very much. And those could be small human mistakes that anyone could excuse. But Mr. Lee's behavior at those times was not desirable even for a thoughtful father and a nice husband. Mayor Lee's son got a privileged experience, taking advantage of his father's social position, which taught him the wrong lesson. Mr. Lee's wife invited her husband as an item of his official business to her alumni event. It is natural that people could get a feeling of privilege and fall into scandals after going through that kind of experience several times.
And most of all, the mayor of Seoul should be a public person rather than a thoughtful father and good husband for the sake of the 10 million citizens of Seoul. Mr. Lee failed to demonstrate that image at the beginning of his tenure.
If Mr. Lee's behavior stems from his habitual view of public office that does not include consideration for the public, and if he confuses the post of the mayor of Seoul with the president of a private company, it is a very serious problem. If that is the case, he can be expected to do that kind of thing whenever he wishes in the future.
Government officials are public servants in the textbook meaning of the term. In other words, they are national servants and errand boys. Mr. Lee also shouted during the campaign for mayor that he would be a faithful errand boy of Seoul city and its citizens. But let's give up the boring textbook definitions and admit the reality. Let's accept public officials' positions as they are and accept all the privileges that go with them. Furthermore, let's posit that they could hand down their pride in public office from generation to generation.
But even if we make the maximum concessions to them, we have to keep in mind that public office is not for a person and his family, but for citizens, country and society. Citizens are not underlings or employees of a private company. A citizen is not a person who can be handled but a person whom an official has to serve. It is said that public office comes from a nation. Citizens today are not the same people who had to move back and bow to a government official passing by in the Joseon Dynasty hundreds of years ago.
So although public officials can enjoy a higher position in society and the pride that goes with their positions, they have to be afraid of the citizens and humble in front of them. It is natural that officials who are not afraid of citizens will ruin themselves in the end.
The reason why Mr. Lee is now under criticism from Seoul citizens and the nation is that he was not afraid of them.
All public officials should keep in mind that necessity to be afraid of the citizens before they set about doing their business.
They should not be lazy in training themselves in humility.
The writer is dean of the College of Social Sciences at Sogang University.
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