[NOTEBOOK]Anxiety over a resurgent Roh“I am not used to his absence,” a businessman joked recently. He said he had begun to miss the ubiquitous appearances of President Roh Moo-hyun in newspapers and on television since his sudden disappearance from the media after his impeachment.
Seventeen days have passed since the unprecedented impeachment suspended the president from his duties, and the crisis does not seem to have influenced the economy very much. Acting President Goh Kun and Lee Hun-jai, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, were quick to respond to the crisis. But the stability owes more to the fact that the economy has matured enough not to be stirred by political factors.
The National Assembly election is only days away, but the market seems to be unaffected by that as well. In the past, politicians would demand donations from businessmen, and more money would be circulating in the market to agitate prices. But this year, such factors that exerted negative influence on the economy have vanished completely.
The enforcement of regulations regarding illegal election campaigns has been tightened, and the intense investigations of the prosecutors of the presidential campaign fund scandal seem to have eradicated the regrettable practice. From the companies’ point of view, the situation has changed in their favor.
But businessmen today do not seem to be enjoying these times. They say they are less worried about today than about tomorrow ― the days to come after the general election and the impeachment crisis have passed.
No one can be sure how the Constitutional Court will rule on the impeachment of the president. But people seem to believe that the impeachment will not be recognized as legitimate, and are concerned about how the president will respond once he returns to power.
The Blue House is being extra careful in its conduct and speech, with the chief of staff personally having ordered the staff to be prudent. The Blue House Briefing, a daily newsletter that had been published since the beginning of the administration, has been temporarily suspended. Mr. Roh does not come to his office and mainly stays in his residence, reading and walking.
His situation is hardly normal, so he must be thinking a great deal. Businessmen say they are anxious because they cannot fathom what he is thinking, or what kind of policies he will pursue when he returns. “Uncertainty is the least welcome thing for the market,” they say.
Whether policies steer toward the left or the right, or whether the variables are favorable or disadvantageous, businessmen can prepare for them as long as their direction is visible. But businessmen are growing increasingly worried and frustrated about the lack of information.
As the poll ratings for the president and Our Open Party have surged since the impeachment, businessmen are concerned about the possibility that the president will come up with drastic policies based on his new popularity.
At this rate, Our Open Party is likely to win a lot more seats than its current share in the Assembly. But many of the candidates who won nominations for the ruling party are rookie politicians, so it is not certain what kind of political philosophies they will display.
The internal economic situation is hardly promising. There have been no solutions to the shortage of raw materials or the high oil prices, which have been burdening the domestic economy since the beginning of the year.
The extremely bipolar situation between exports and domestic consumption, and between large companies and small and midsized businesses, has grown more serious. Labor-management relations are showing worrisome signs. The pending issues include the implementation of the five-day workweek and the improvement of treatment of irregular employees, matters that cannot be resolved by any individual company.
The weekly magazine Economist has interviewed 20 economic experts and cited the unstable financial market, the lethargic corporate spirit, the worsening consumer confidence, the possible fall in the sovereign credit rating and the country’s backward job creation policies as the five most worrisome economic factors during the impeachment crisis. This list seems to reflect the concerns of the private sector. If we are to overcome these obstacles, psychological composure is needed most.
Many businessmen hope the president will propose a vision that can reassure the companies, the market and the economy when he returns to office. Another wish is that the administration can reinvent itself as a friendly government, not a frightening one.
* The writer is business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Min Byong-kwan