[FORUM]The president cracks the codeThe “Roh Moo-hyun Code” has fallen through. With the resignation of the Blue House “super-senior” secretary for civil affairs, Moon Jae-in, the network of Blue House personnel handpicked by the president has been broken up while the cabinet has also taken on a more bureaucratic and professional color with the new appointments. The “progressive reform code” has been pushed aside and the government now even looks faintly center-right. Kim Woo-sik, the newly-appointed presidential chief of staff, who will be one of the closest assistants to the president, told a journalist he met shortly before his appointment that he followed a different “code” than the president. Ahn Byung-young, deputy prime minister and minister of education and human resources, also stated upon his appointment that he was of a “people’s code.” So it seems that the age of “code personnel” has come to an end.
The initial cabinet and the Blue House staff consisted of so-called “code-fitting persons” with a progressive tendency. They were mostly people known for their fight for democracy under former governments, of the “386 generation” born in the 1960s and who attended college in the 1980s. They gave off the image of unblemished, ethical and reform-minded idealists. They rode high at the beginning of the Roh administration, moving with determination towards reform but they were soon bogged down by lack of experience and professionalism. Tension heightened as they resorted frequently to populist methods of managing policies and problems. They lacked an overall global approach. It is true that the public trust in the “code personnel” fell drastically when their clean image took a blow with the discovery that a few of the members took bribes. They were also criticized for having incited strife by polarizing our society.
This is why the new cabinet seems to read as an overall change of orbit from “code politics” than just a simple change of faces. It is an admission of failure of the first year of the Roh Moo-hyun economy and is even interpreted by some to be the abandonment of “Roh-nomics.”
Reaction from some quarters is optimistic. There is, of course, an underlying apprehension that the Blue House is getting too weak but that concerns a different aspect of the issue. In fact, it is widely expected that the new shift of direction could correct the abnormal behavior of the government that had resulted from the code personnel, especially in the field of the economy. Many are predicting and welcoming a big change in the overall framework of policy management. What draws our attention most are the two new deputy prime ministers. Both are more than just persons outside of the Roh Moo-hyun code. They have until now been two of the most outspoken critics of the present government.
Lee Hun-jai, one of the two deputy prime ministers and minister of finance and economy, had severely criticized the government in a meeting last April. “Problems with the government’s line of policies and its pro-labor tendency are inflaming the instability of the market,” Mr. Lee reportedly said. “The government cannot escape blame for having built up the insolvency of the credit card companies and its exaggerated measures following a belated reaction have only raised the costs.”
Mr. Ahn, the other deputy prime minister, had made even more scathing remarks about the government’s performance. He once said, “President Roh’s ‘power-herding, sentimental, all-or-nothing’ style of politics presents the danger of a fall into populist opportunism.” Mr. Ahn also said in an academic seminar shortly before his appointment, “The former fighters for democracy who are President Roh’s aides are strong in their ideological beliefs but weak in managing a country or professional policy-making.”
To President Roh, who is known to be impatient with criticism, these two men must seem quite belligerent. Remembering the president’s enraged reaction to any media coverage critical of him in the past, it seems almost unbelievable that these two men have become deputy prime ministers. Some might explain the president’s change as a desperate last resort, with a thin layer of personnel and most of his “code aides” in jail or in the battlefield of the general elections. However, considering President Roh’s personality, it seems unlikely that he would employ two such harsh critics as a temporary tactic. It seems more appropriate to see this as a grand shift. This is our president exercising tolerance to accept his critics and to boldly correct what had been a wrong government line of policies and the president’s decision should be praised as such. There is no hope in a stubborn government that shuts its ears to criticism and continues on with its mistaken policies.
* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.
by Heo Nam-chin