[OUTLOOK]Rebuild confidence in the new yearSeven days are left in the year of the sheep, and the coming year is the year of the monkey. Next year is the 120th anniversary of the Gabsin coup during the Joseon Dynasty, a full two 60-year cycles. The Roh Moo-hyun administration will enter its second year in office, and the 17th National Assembly election is also scheduled.
But at year’s end, the current political, social and economic situation is as turbulent and chaotic as it was at the end of the Joseon Dynasty. The ruling and opposition parties are supposed to be responsible for political leadership, but they are wandering in confusion and unpredictability instead of giving hope to the citizens.
The government is supposed to undertake the responsibility of national administration, but it is so sensitive about public opinion that it has failed to exercise leadership when making policy decisions on many pending issues. The citizens distrust the government’s decisions, and feel uneasy about the uncertainties of the future.
Decision making in a democratic society must include gathering public opinion, but if the final decision-maker lacks judgment, the administration is destined to drift. The five-year term of a presidency is not long, and so the citizens expect the president to be prepared before taking office.
If the conductor of an orchestra comes to the stage and takes too long to tune up with the members, the audience will get bored, boo, or even leave the auditorium. A good conductor should form his orchestra with able musicians and be ready to perform the prepared repertoire with only a brief tune-up. The public expects the president to propose a blueprint for his administration after a brief transition period following his inauguration, and wants the government to operate normally as soon as possible.
If it does not, the citizens will turn their backs on the government and the president’s approval rating will fall. This is exactly what is happening in the Roh administration.
It is only 10 months after the inauguration, and the Blue House might say that the public is too impatient and claim that it takes time to start a new system. But that justification can never excuse a lack of preparation. The people assume that planning for the administration would have been completed in Mr. Roh’s days as a presidential candidate and that his campaign promises were formulated on that basis. The two-month period between the election and inauguration should have been enough time for last-minute fine-tuning.
A government is made up of people, and people also create and operate the system. If the system is improperly organized, or if the operators lack competence, it can no longer serve its purpose. When the administration is mired in stagnation, losing public support, the president must check the system and carry out the restructuring that is necessary for efficiency. Only when the president fulfills his duty can economic and social problems be resolved and the people’s support for his administration be restored.
Today’s society is challenged by the explosive increase in knowledge, a flood of information, ever-higher educational levels, increasingly reasonable thinking, sensitivity to social inequality and uncertainty. The ruling party and the government must realize they cannot manipulate, lure and rule the citizens with vague and unrealistic slogans. Sincere administration is the only way to recover lost confidence.
The government and politicians advocate an “intellectual society” and an “information-oriented society,” but in fact they do not acknowledge how they should change in order to adapt to society. History has taught us that a regime or a party that goes against public sentiment without accepting the changed situation is bound to fail. A government or leader that ignores the teachings of history cannot succeed. We always talk about examples of foreign leaders who successfully pushed their countries to grow.
But in our 55 years of history as the Republic of Korea, we have not yet had a leader who has shown true leadership. The British philosopher Edmund Burke called politics “philosophy in action.” We will see true leadership when a confident leader recognizes and addresses political, economic and social problems. In the coming year of the monkey, we hope to see the politics of conviction, not the politics of empty words. We don’t have time for word play.
* The writer is a former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Chong-in