[INSIGHT]What was the president thinking?

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[INSIGHT]What was the president thinking?

Everyone is worried about our political situation these days. President Roh Moo-hyun’s call for a vote of confidence is likely to cause even greater political confusion in this country, which has been drifting in chaos and conflict for some time. It is too late now to revoke his call for a confidence vote, but it is hard to understand what Mr. Roh must have been thinking when he made his decision. The popular belief that he is an unpredictable man comes to mind. It seems that there will be a vacuum in governance for a considerable period of time.
While politicians engage in another bout of “life or death” struggle over power, what will happen to the North Korean nuclear situation and the decision on whether to send more troops to Iraq? The president is not in a position to make major decisions until he receives a vote of confidence. Will there be a public official who would dare to do anything on his own responsibility? Will there be a business that would invest or plan new projects amid this political uncertainty of a regime change in a few months?
It is doubtful whether Mr. Roh considered all this when he made his decision. Did he think that a vote of confidence would be worth seeking for the good of the nation at the price of great confusion, waste of national resources and opportunities? Mr. Roh reportedly said, “Moral trust is the only capital for me to lead the nation.”
He will now seek a vote of confidence because this moral trust was compromised by the corruption allegations surrounding his close aides. Does the president, who should think of the country above all, have the right to shake up the entire country to acquire his own “capital?”
Surely the president’s own capital is a small problem compared to the expected domestic confusion and public anxiety. Hasn’t the president misjudged the size of the problem? And aren’t there plenty of other ways to recover this capital without resorting to such drastic measures as a vote of confidence? What about the controversy that it is unconstitutional?
Corrupt aides are a possibility that always exists. It would be unthinkable for the president to seek a confidence vote whenever there are allegations of corruption against those surrounding him. The best way a president could react to corruption scandals involving his aides is to apologize to the public and replace the culprits with clean people. That is what the people also demand.
Why is Mr. Roh overreacting to the corruption scandals of his aides? What are the allegations against his long-time personal aide and former Blue House secretary for general affairs, Choi Do-sul, that would lead the president to make such a decision?
Allegations should be cleared by investigations, not condoned by confidence votes. Mr. Roh’s call for a confidence vote has put the Choi Du-sul case at the center of public attention and an even stricter investigation by the prosecution is unavoidable now.
Mr. Roh included “responsibility for the public mistrust that had been accumulated so far” as a reason for seeking a vote of confidence. The “mistrust” has been caused by his frequent slips of the tongue, cronyism, policy mistakes and lack of public vision. As long as these problems continue to exist, no number of confidence votes will improve the state of the government.
The president has put forth the drastic measure of a confidence vote, yet he has not said a word about correcting the problems that had placed him under such mistrust.
The president said in his speech at the National Assembly on Monday that he would reshuffle the cabinet and the Blue House staff and conduct political reforms should he receive a vote of confidence. If he really has that determination, the president has no reason to wait until the vote.
If he conducts these reforms now there would not even be a reason for a confidence vote and his “capital” would be easily recovered. Alas, there seems to be no avoiding a vote on the government now. The question is how to minimize the confusion and the loss and to turn this vote of confidence into an opportunity for the country.
First, it would be desirable for the president to make a public pledge that should he receive a vote of confidence, he would not only reform the cabinet and the Blue House staff but correct his various personal flaws that have surfaced during the last eight months. The government will not be reformed if replacements involve different faces but the same “code.”
Above all, the president himself must change in order to reform the government. It is only right that the public, who must pay the price of confusion and anxiety for the vote of confidence, should demand reforms in the government and changes in the president.
When the vote of confidence is finally cast, it will not be merely a moral judgment on the president or an opportunity to decide whether to give an indulgence to the corruption scandals or not. The public will vote on whether President Roh Moo-hyun is worthy enough to continue as president for four more years or not, based on their experience of the past eight months.
This vote of confidence will either be an opportunity to turn Mr. Roh into a better president or an opportunity to pick a better president than he is.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok
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