[INSIGHT]Shake it off and get up, Mr. RohI feel sorry that President Roh Moo-hyun seems to have lost his confidence after only three months. “I cannot perform the duties of the presidency,” were shocking words coming from the president. Mr. Roh has also displayed a weak human side, lamenting that “my sincere devotion is answered by their betrayal” and that the Blue House “feels like a prison.” Korean presidents usually reserve these words for the end of their term.
Despite a rocky start, President Roh has done many things well and has given hope that he will continue to do so. No president in the past has shown the determination he has, at the risk of belittling himself, to wash away the authoritarian stench of the Blue House and to de-politicize government agencies. Recently, he even succeeded restoring to a certain level the U.S.-Korea relations that were damaged, to a large degree, by his anti-American remarks. President Roh’s words come as a surprise to me because I had felt that he had just started to show his abilities in both home and foreign affairs. What prompted him to say those words? Why is Mr. Roh feeling so cornered and helpless? Whatever the reason is, we better find it out fast and think of a solution.
In fact, it may be better that this midlife crisis has come upon Mr. Roh earlier than later, because it could provide an opportunity for a revision and a fresh start. As I see it, there are three urgent tasks that the president must take on to insure the stability of his administration and a successful five years in office.
First, he must get rid of what has come to be known as the “Roh Moo-hyun code.” For the last three months, sides have been divided according to whether one accepts this code or not. Those “in” with the code have been hogging public posts and plugging the code into their policies and guidelines. As a result, this vague and formless “Roh code” has been kidnapped, sometimes colliding with the law, reason and plain common sense. The president has often contradicted himself by speaking in his code at certain times and certain places and then turning to the law in other times and places. The recent truckers strike, teachers union troubles, Hanchongryun protests and the government workers’ movement to form a union against the law are all cases of how Mr. Roh has found himself under attack from his loyalists and believers in the “code.” Mr. Roh feels that he can’t perform his duty as president because his supporters have driven him into a corner. In this case, it is obvious that he must abandon his code. Presidential duties do not allow for any personal codes to take over.
The president as an individual might have his own political beliefs but the president as the head of state should not. Especially when the “code” in question is seemingly being used as a tool by interest groups who do not hesitate to break the law and impose themselves on others for their own selfish reasons, the code is not seemly. It’s time you pull the cord on the code, Mr. President. Your job comes before the code.
Second, Mr. Roh must reconsider some of his choices for government posts. While I almost feel bad talking about a reshuffle of offices to a government that is only three months old, there are just too many problems in the present lineup. Constant confusion over policies, constant revision of words and amateurish behavior have now become the much-discussed characteristics of the Roh Moo-hyun government. It is desirable that a government retain a culture of debate where different opinions are aired. But in what kind of a proper administration does a minister speak his mind through a protest rally instead of at the cabinet meeting? In case you’re wondering, the environment and commerce ministers were at the protest rally over the Saemangeum wetlands reclamation project while the agriculture minister was affirming that the project would go on as scheduled.
A reshuffle of offices seems inevitable if the president is to surround himself with a more competent and sophisticated staff. There have been several bloopers and mistakes by the president during the last months and this very admission that he feels like he can’t go on shows that there are too few good men and women assisting and advising the president.
Lastly, the president must change himself. During the last three months, the president sometimes gave the impression that it still hasn’t dawned on him that he is the president. “I can’t do this,” are not the words of a president. No matter how cornered and betrayed he felt, Mr. Roh should have considered the effect his words would have. Three months and the president is already saying he can’t do this? How are we going to survive the next five years? Mr. Roh’s constant slips of the tongue are also indicative of a slip of consciousness that he is the president. Mr. Roh should also know that there is a difference between authoritarianism and authority. Slipping through the back gate to attend a national ceremony at the Gwangju Cemetery because of protesters might have been an act of fortitude for Roh Moo-hyun the man, but it was self-deprecating behavior for Roh Moo-hyun, the president of Korea. I urge President Roh to be a little more thoughtful. Mr. Roh’s five years as president do not only belong to him but to the people of Korea as well. Whether he feels like he “can’t do this” or not, he has to. And he has to do it well for the sake of the country and the people.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok