[OUTLOOK]Roh needs to watch his friends

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[OUTLOOK]Roh needs to watch his friends

There are over 20 books published on President Roh Moo-hyun. Most of these books came out during the presidential election. However, there was one book that was published some six months after the election, titled “The Rebellion of the Roh Moo-hyun Code” and written by Kim Heon-sik. To quote a few lines:
“Roh Moo-hyun, who had to seek popularity, must now draw in his image based on popular culture. He must now seek realistic methods through the law and the system. ...
“He was the speaker for the common people and the poor and now he has become a warrior who has entered the Blue House with everyone’s desire that he stand up against the reactionary forces. However, Roh Moo-hyun is bound to fail if he continues to understand things in this code. ...
“If one supports Roh Moo-hyun, one must lessen the role of the cultural code and see things through the systemic code. Or else Roh Moo-hyun’s party will be over forever.”
In this book, writer Kim Heon-sik emphasizes that because Roh Moo-hyun is no longer a civil movement leader but the president, his supporters shouldn’t criticize him just because he cannot avoid making compromises.
The author says the president’s supporters must understand and help the president’s policies within the framework of the system. The writer warns Roh supporters that if they criticize him as a traitor because they are dissatisfied with his decisions on sending troops to Iraq or on the national teachers’ union or on opening the education market, they are only helping the reactionary forces who refuse reform.
Not long after his inauguration, President Roh himself once admitted that it was harder to convince the progressive forces that had supported him than the conservatives who opposed him, a sentiment expressed by the writer Mr. Kim.
It is hard for any man with a sense of duty to go back on the promises one has made and the hopes of one’s supporters. It must be all the more difficult for the president, who is both emotional and stubborn.
Despite all this, President Roh has changed considerably. Some misleading ideas might have been straightened out, and there could be others that he had to compromise due to the restraints of reality. He changed his position on the national pension 180 degrees from what he advocated in a television debate during the presidential campaign, and he broke a promise to halt the tunneling project of Mount Sapae.
Over the last year, he has revised much of what was called his “code-based personnel appointments,” which started with the appointments for the presidential transition team. The president has also shifted his position on labor issues, stepping back from his initial advocacy for a “balance of power” between the laborers and the management.
Gone too is his huffy defiance of the United States that was expressed earlier with remarks such as, “Why should I go to the United States when I’ve no business there?”
Why is the president changing like this? The president must have experienced all sorts of difficulties trying to work within the frame of the complicated web of policies and systems. He must have had countless moments when he realized that he couldn’t just turn everything upside down as he pleased because he was the president. The change in the president was apparent during the New Year’s press conference. His opening remark was all about the economy, quite a change from the end of last year when he boasted in a television interview that the economy was fine.
The flow of changes that are expected this year could possibly strain the relationship between the president and his supporters even further. The “rebellion of the Roh Moo-hyun code” might rise up even more fiercely.
The first “rebellion” in sight is that of the labor sector. Unless a dramatic compromise is reached between the labor unions and management, a full-frontal confrontation seems inevitable this year. The president himself had hinted at this possibility in his New Year’s press conference and urged the unions to restrain themselves and even presented a guideline on wage hike restrictions.
The president personally would probably not want to disappoint the labor sector, but he could not have acted in any other way when jobs are evaporating into thin air and firms continue to stall investment.
Even now, deep inside, Mr. Roh might feel like shouting that he is still on the laborers’ side. That, after all, was the Roh Moo-hyun code. However, jobs are disappearing, and the unemployment of youth is getting more serious. That is why the president had to swallow his pride and start a change of codes.
Must the president’s supporters abandon him now when he is in such a difficult situation and start up “rebellions” instead of helping him? The fear that the president might be destroyed at the hands of his own supporters, a fear that was expressed by the writer Mr. Kim, is starting to be realized.

* The writer is chief economic correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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