[OUTLOOK]Expectations for a new presidentIf the last two presidential elections had been about voting for a civilian president and exorcising the demons of a military government, this year's election is about saying good-bye to the "three Kim" era, symbolic of both despotism and democracy, and selecting a president to lead us in the 21st century. We have now overcome the economic crisis that struck us in the late 20th century, but whether we can find our way into the legion of advanced countries depends on the next one or two governments.
I would like to state what kind of president and what kinds of policies are necessary for present-day Korea, based on the results of a survey of 253 scholars and professionals selected by Issuetoday, a portal site, and reported by the JoongAng Ilbo on Dec. 5. In an overall evaluation of the candidates, Lee Hoi-chang received the greatest number of points, gaining the approval of 64 percent of the respondents, leading his opponent Roh Moo-hyun by 10 percent. While Mr. Lee received points for his stability and for his rationality, Mr. Roh received far more points than Mr. Lee for trustworthiness and integrity and as the candidate most likely to keep his promises to the people. Putting this all together, we can conclude that the ideal president the experts want is someone who gives a sense of stability, such as Mr. Lee, while at the same time showing a high level of trustworthiness and integrity.
It's been said this year that the results of the election could possibly depend on which candidate wins more voters in the 40s age range. This age group wants change, as represented by Mr. Roh, from the generation of those who fought for democracy under the military dictatorship. But at the same time, this group tends to lean on stable candidates like Mr. Lee. The participants of this survey, whose average age was 47, also showed this dual tendency.
If we look at the details of the survey, Mr. Lee received more points for education policies than any other candidates. Mr. Lee has emphasized more liberalization of regulations in education, striking a chord in voters who feel that the existing education system is too stifling. Respondents of the survey picked education as the most important issue to be dealt with by the next government. The new president will have to deal not only with the issue of a rising household burden of private education, but also with the vast influence of a poor educational system that has spread into areas as diverse as national competitiveness, real estate speculation and international payments (due to a boom in students studying abroad.)
In the areas of unification and foreign policies, Mr. Roh received the most points, showing that the survey respondents wanted an active line of policies toward North Korea to continue despite slight problems. By observing how the conservative party in the former West Germany was able to create more room to pursue an active East Germany policy, we can anticipate whether the winner of the election will be Mr. Roh, who proclaimed maintaining the present administration's North Korea policy, or Mr. Lee, who was critical of President Kim Dae-jung's policy. The next government here will adopt an engagement policy with the North that will either make us or break us.
The participants in the survey said that the most important qualifications for a president are the abilities to appoint personnel fairly and to be ethical. Both areas rated higher than a candidate's personal skills. This shows clearly that respondents expected the new president to not follow in the steps of his predecessor.
President Kim's biggest successes, the survey showed, were in unification and foreign policy, while his biggest mistake was dealing with U.S. troops stationed in Korea. Korean-U.S. relations soured after the deaths of two teenage girls last June. The survey showed that seeking new relations with the United States will be an important task for the new president.
The economy is an area that the new president needs to give the most attention to, the survey said. Both Mr. Lee and Mr. Roh received low grades in this area, reflecting the difficulty of this problem while showing at the same time the necessity for a president who is capable of solving this problem. Sustainable growth and reforms in the wealth distribution system are two tasks pinpointed by the survey for the next administration's economic policies, which emphasizes concerns about the worsening problems of unemployment and the uneven distribution of wealth.
The ideal president should give us a sense of stability while at the same time displaying trustworthiness and integrity. He should possess the judgment to appoint the right people to the right positions, and possess a high level of ethics. The lines of policies he should pursue are: maintaining an active attitude in the North-South Korean relations and establishing anew relations with the United States, while liberalizing regulations in the education system and finding a balance between economic growth and wealth distribution that can solve the unemployment problem.
Neither of the two strongest candidates fits these ideals exactly. But a new president can always transform himself.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Seoul National University.
by Lee Keun