[INSIGHT]Roh must dump some aidesOnly a little over 100 days in office, the Roh Moo-hyun government is already displaying symptoms of a lame-duck administration.
First of all, its support ratings are dropping fast. Slightly more than half the respondents answered in a survey that they didn’t think the Roh Moo-hyun government is doing its job well, while support for the president has crashed to somewhere around the 50 percent level. This is in stark contrast to the survey results during the early days of the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung adminstrations, when support for the president was well above 80 percent.
The incessant noise and discord being emitted over allegations that some of the president’s close advisers and acquaintances had speculated in land around the city of Yongin also indicate the sad state that the new government is in. There were disgraceful incidents involving those close to the president in the two earlier administrations, but they had at least kept their act in shape during the first year.
The third and biggest sign of the Roh government’s troubles is the distrust that the public is expressing about the government.
The uncertain policies that the Roh government announced at the beginning seemed to have receded after a bout of commotion over U.S.-Korea relations and the policies concerning North Korea’s nuclear program, only to surge again with the nationwide strike by truckers and another by a teachers' union.
Why has this fledgling administration already become a lame duck? This mutation is ominous for the future of our country and must not be ignored but set right by exorcising what needs to be exorcised and correcting what needs to be corrected. An early failure caught in time could even guarantee future success.
The truth is that the support ratings during the early days of the last two governments were all illusions. Failures such as the “Big Deal” policy to control the jaebeol, “media reforms” designed to choke the media and a state of “reform fatigue” all occurred in the last two administrations because the presidents did not govern by the law but by arbitrary decisions. Discrimination in government appointments, regionalism, the corruption of presidential aides and sons and “parachuted” government officials were all going on, unknown by the public, during the early days of the last two administrations. It was only when the consequences of these actions erupted in an economic breakdown and multiple “-gate” scandals that the public found out. In that sense, the early lame-duck symptoms of the Roh government even give us hope that we are watching a learning process and the initial stage hardships of revising the old customs and evils of past governments.
Many have already prescribed solutions for the Roh government’s mistakes as it marked its 100th day in office. Some want more discretion from the president in what he says; some see the problem in the flaws in the system that allow room for arbitrary policy decisions; some want the government to present a concrete vision to the public and some demand that more authority be given to the prime minister. These are all pieces of advice worth listening to. But there are some things that should be added here.
First, the government should not be based on any particular ideology. The so-called “code matching,” or the informal coalition of those who share the same ideological beliefs, only worsens problems and makes it harder to solve them. A journalist overheard Deputy Prime Minister of Education Yoon Deok-hong lament, “If I had been an extremely conservative man, I could have just bulldozed through, and if I had been an extremely liberal man, I could have just given in to them. But I tried listening to both sides of the story and that was my mistake.”
The implementation of the National Education Information System, a nationwide student database, is not a matter to be decided by political ideology. It is an inevitable choice for the improvement of our education system. If there are concerns about students’ rights being violated, then fix the trouble spots. Don’t turn this into an ideological issue that would lead us nowhere. The left-wing principal of Saetbyeol Middle School, Jeon Seong-eun, who was designated by the president to head the nascent education reform commission, remarked that when left to the free will of the teachers, even those in the teachers’ union chose to accept the proposed information database. Education policies should be decided on how efficiently and rationally they work for the well-being of education.
The second thing the Roh administration should do is a thorough housecleaning of the president’s aides. During the last two administrations, this column warned of the dangers of not checking the tyranny of those close to the president. Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty in 206 B.C. China, knew the dangers and got rid of his two closest aides. Our presidents, however, seem to always ignore this danger, following one another in the same path to the trap of power.
Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung had groups of supporters of the size and discipline of an army division to whom they owed their election victories. President Roh received help from many people, but his close aides and acquaintances are not many. It would be hard for him to say goodbye to these aides, but a true leader knows when to let go of his past political connections.
Generally, the history of a nation, much like the life story of a person, can be analyzed from the perspective of specific events, the phenomenal stage and the chronic stage. President Roh’s troubles with Nosamo, his personal supporters’ club, the row over the proposed education database system and the allegations concerning his close aides are specific events. Unless the president does something about these events, they will grow into a chronic problem and ultimately into a lame-duck syndrome.
A quick-reflex system that can be used to pinch off problems quickly and a system of law and not of human decisions ― that is what the Roh administration needs to exorcise itself of its lame-duck omens.
* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin