[OUTLOOK]Roh currently has the advantage

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[OUTLOOK]Roh currently has the advantage

President Roh Moo-hyun crossed the Rubicon when he said he would test his leadership through a vote of confidence in his leadership. One of the most likely means to gauge citizens’ feeling toward him is a national referendum. And in his address to the National Assembly on Monday, Mr. Roh himself suggested a referendum on his presidency on Dec. 15.
What is the likely outcome? Most opinion polls showed that he would earn a new mandate if the referendum were held today. While we cannot jump to a conclusion at the moment, a national referendum is probably not a losing game for him considering the circumstances.
Let’s look at the situation from Mr. Roh’s position. His call for a public vote of confidence is in effect a preemptive attack. He has dropped a bombshell that can erase the series of corruption scandals and declining confidence in the administration in one blow. When Mr. Roh first mentioned the matter of referendum regarding his leadership on Oct. 10, he was apologetic about the political funds scandal involving Choi Do-sul, a former Blue House secretary and long-time aide. But his attitude changed the following day, when he attacked politicians by saying the chaos that could be caused in the process of a vote of confidence could not possibly match the scope of the political chaos in the last few months. The seriousness of his offensive has been accentuated when he dared to give up the position of chief executive, the essence of his career and life.
Now Mr. Roh is asking the voters to choose between him and the politicians. He is seeking a return to his presidential campaign strategy, the concept of “new politics versus old politics.” If political parties argue over the method of the referendum or the Grand National Party, the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats decide to ally to urge a “no” vote, he would corner them as “spent forces that sport unnecessary political strife.” Mr. Roh could also benefit from the prospect of political, economic and social chaos that is likely to follow if he is ousted from his post. His loyal supporters who pulled off his election victory would reunite to keep him in the position they had put him in the first place.
Unfortunately for his opponents, there are not many cards to play against him, largely because Mr. Roh has the first-mover’s advantage. Mr. Roh is free to make decisions on his own based on his judgment while the parties would have a hard time reaching an agreement and reacting promptly to the president’s offensive. Choe Byung-ryul of the Grand National Party and Park Sang-cheon of the Millennium Democratic Party are not absolute leaders. For now, the only hope for the anti-Roh politicians is the outcome of the prosecutors’ investigations into slush fund scandals involving the SK and Hyundai Groups and Goodmorning City. The Grand National and the Millennium Democratic Parties are likely to cooperate in calling for a special prosecutor to look into alleged corruption by Mr. Roh’s aides because they have no alternatives. If they could dig out yet another scandalous incident among his entourage, it could be a point powerful enough to sway national sentiment.
While continuing the attacks on Mr. Roh’s competency and the scandals surrounding him, the politicians should be careful not to look like they are obstructing the president’s efforts to improve the situation. The anti-Roh side should also keep in mind that the conduct of some politicians who hope for Mr. Roh’s exit could make them look disrespectful to the incumbent head of state. At least 20 politicians with presidential ambitions would begin the groundwork to pave their ways to the Blue House, and the media will surely highlight their desire. And the citizens are not likely to welcome the politicians vying for the position already occupied by Mr. Roh.
On top of this all, there is the issue of constitutional revision. The United Liberal Democrats have hinted that they want a parliamentary system, and the Millennium Democratic Party has mentioned a French-style presidential system where the president and the prime minister share power. If the parties insist on their choice of a new government system, the debate would only confuse the citizens even more. Until we are through with the national referendum, the talk of constitutional revision should be avoided.

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

by Kim Du-woo
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