[FORUM]Please follow the doctor’s ordersEven those with sharp enough eyes to tell a person’s age from his or her appearance have trouble guessing the age of tribesmen in one Southeast Asian community. A middle-aged-appearing man would claim to be 20 years old, while a lad who seemed to have just reached manhood would say he was 40 years old. In fact, the tribe has a unique, ancient tradition to count age backwards, starting from 60 when a person is born and then counting down each year.
I was reminded of this tale because the Roh Moo-hyun administration is showing symptoms that were seen mostly toward the end of other administrations, but only five months after its inauguration. I suspect the administration is suffering from progeria, the rare disease that causes rapid aging in children. Apart from the slumping economy and higher security concerns, the Roh administration is, above all, tainted with a series of corruption scandals involving the president’s friends, family, and entourage. Secondly, Mr. Roh’s approval rating, which once hovered impressively at over 70 percent, has collapsed to near the 20-percent level in a recent opinion poll. Last and most shockingly, a senior politician of the ruling party, not the opposition, said he is worried about the rest of the president’s term, and recently Mr. Roh himself mentioned his intention “not to resign.”
Although the situation is grave, the administration seems to be making an effort to show that it is not affected by public opinion. But many citizens think the administration has made a bad start and are uneasy that things are still not going right. People are increasingly anxious and concerned that if the situation does not get better or gets worse, the nation could break down. The administration is largely responsible for the spreading sense of insecurity, and it is the administration’s duty to ease those concerns. It must take some strong steps to turn things around.
If the government is interested in shaking off the symptoms of progeria, it could learn from basic precautions and cures for geriatric diseases. Doctors usually recommend the following: Change unhealthy habits like smoking, overeating and drinking; do not be a workaholic or a moneygrubber but spend more time exercising and get regular checkups to catch diseases like cancer in the early stages and have surgery promptly to stop the problem.
As far as changing bad habits goes, Mr. Roh’s speech and behavior should be the first to be examined. As a recent opinion poll by the Hankyoreh newspaper showed, most Koreans think that the biggest problem in Mr. Roh’s national governance is his language and conduct, which they say is unfit for a president. People expect the nation’s leader to be more prudent in his speech and demeanor. It will not be easy to change old habits overnight, but if he tries to talk and act as he did during the presidential campaign debates on television, there is hope for him.
Second, Mr. Roh must not be greedy to win more Assembly seats in the coming election, but put his time and energy into more constructive fields in order to establish a solid economy and a stable society. Especially, he must avoid wasting his time on exhausting political strife that would only encourage antagonism among the people and would result in nothing profitable for him. The president should be in the front line of efforts to persuade and unite even his opponents and lead them to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the nation.
Finally, the president must investigate aides who are incompetent or potentially untrustworthy and fire them before they disgrace him more.
From the beginning, citizens have wished for Mr. Roh to lead a healthy administration until the moment of his exit and be remembered as a successful chief executive ― unlike his less-than-respectable predecessors. Mr. Roh, please do not let us down.
* The writer is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.
by Ro Sung-tae