[INSIGHT] 100 days of mob rule in Korea

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[INSIGHT] 100 days of mob rule in Korea

Wednesday was the 100th day of the new administration. It is, of course, too soon to say if the administration will be a success or a failure. In a press conference, President Roh Moo-hyun said that the 100 days in office had been a period in which he felt both a sense of achievement and of regret.
Deciding if the first 100 days were successful or not is subjective. Even if the administration has been doing wrong so far, it can always become a successful one if it does better from now on.
With all due respect, however, it must be said that the first 100 days of the new government have been a failure. It is said in the United States that the president’s success or failure is decided in his first 100 days. The new president must begin to implement his agenda when the people’s expectations of him are at their highest.
If he misses that opportunity, he would lose the momentum to follow through with his policies due to the contrasting interests of various groups. Both the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations seemed to have done at least something during this period. In contrast, what has the new government done in the last 100 days?
One can feel a sense of failure even from the remarks of the government officials. In a meeting with newspaper editors, President Roh confessed, “The people aren’t sharing my vision because I don’t have enough credibility.”
Officials like the culture minister and the Blue House chief of staff are blaming the problems on the media. They say the media has attacked the president’s leadership without grounds. Whether legitimate or not, these remarks can only be heard as confessions of the failure of the first 100 days.
That the administration has not presented a credible vision to the people and displayed confusion over policies are only minor details of the problem. The biggest problem this country faces is that the people have lost faith in their country. There is a pervading skepticism that this country is not playing its proper role. It is said that in a state of nature without nations there is only a struggle of man against man. The classic idea of the state is that it is the only thing that can protect an individual’s life and possessions under such circumstances. Within the boundaries of the state, an individual is protected not by brute force or the power in numbers but by a law that is applied equally to anyone. Our new government, however, seems to have given up on this basic role of the state. Our country is becoming an arena of struggle where one can’t survive without forming a mob and shouting out demands.
The truckers strike and the walkout at Doosan Heavy Industries were at least tolerable. When a young but powerful aide to the president was investigated by the prosecutors, members of the government party cried foul play and formed a citizen lawyer group. There has even been a hunger strike by inmates at the Cheongsong Penitentiary demanding the revision of the Social Protection Act. The Saemangeum wetlands reclamation project has triggered more than just debate; when mobs form to protest the project, even cabinet members line up to meet the protesters. Banks where trillions of won of people’s tax money has been spent and still need more money are in a state of limbo because of their unions.
If those who form mobs win by belligerently imposing their views on others and those who can’t form mobs get no protection, what good is the state? Justice would be on the side of those who form the bigger group.
Some ministers have even professed to be spokesmen for particular groups. It is said that the labor minister is on the side of laborers, the industry minister is on the side of business and the agriculture minister is on the side of farmers. The government should not be on the side of anyone. It is its duty to execute the law fairly for all. The labor minister should not execute labor policies and laws for laborers but for the good of all the people. If the law is wrong, it can be revised by electing a new set of officials. This is government by law. This is democracy.
There is a reason for the failure of the government’s first 100 days. The government has taken the side of the mobs and listened to their demands only. The vendors in the markets who are worried about recession, the tenants who are worried about rising apartment prices, the young people who still haven’t found a job after graduation, the middle-aged who have been laid off and can’t survive on their pensions ... their sighs and anger aren’t being delivered to the government because they haven’t formed a mob.
This is a world where the hard-working remain invisible and only the leaders of the mob rule. If the new government does not restore law and order and hear the voices of the silent majority, it has no hope no matter how much longer it has in office.
This is what should have been reflected in the president’s 100th day media conference.

* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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