[FORUM]Politics cloud Roh’s leadership

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[FORUM]Politics cloud Roh’s leadership

My house is in Segumjung, and I often pass on the street in front of the Blue House to and from work. It is good to see the refreshing look of roadside trees, including old zelkova trees in Gungjeong-dong and gingko and plane trees along the wall of Gyeongbok Palace. Being pressed for time with busy everyday life, I realize changes in the seasons when I see the clothing of the trees here. It is winter before one even realizes it. The trees have already changed their clothes twice since President Roh Moo-hyun became the new occupant of the Blue House. Time flies, indeed.
A few days ago, President Roh attended a meeting where an assessment of his policies over the past two years was reported. The report said, “The problem was that necessary alternative economic policies failed to make specific progress” and “Realistic and effective measures taken were insufficient.” The assessment committee, reportedly, gave positive ratings on the direction of the present administration but expressed doubt about its actual performance. In a word, this amounted to a reproach of “What did you do?”
President Roh has three years remaining in his term. After subtracting a year from 2007, when the presidential election is held, the time he can work is reduced to two years. Moreover, all kinds of political events are waiting to be held in a row from next year.
Beginning with the governing Uri Party’s convention to select its chairperson next spring, by-elections for lawmakers will be held in April next year, as will local government elections in 2006. By this time, the problem of constitutional revision will be raised too. The Uri Party has already begun to talk about the issue. When a constitutional revision coincides with the contest for the next presidency, problems will become more complicated.
Perhaps, the flame of the presidential election may begin to burn in earnest from the second half of the next year. It is because of the Chonggye stream. The Chonggye stream restoration project will be completed at the end of August next year. When Lee Myung-bak, mayor of Seoul, is in the bright spotlight, a few people will be jealous. This may trigger immediate competition in the presidential election.
If the political situation develops with a focus on political events, the presidential leadership is bound to be hurt. Political events are marked by mass production of troublesome political issues with conflict and confrontation. There would be no problems if they were solved well, but our politicians lack such ability, as was revealed in the process of the handling of the issues of capital relocation and the four major reform bills. The governing and opposition parties managed to have four-way talks to lay down a framework for dialogue, but we have to wait and see what results come from them.
If politics is to coordinate and integrate conflicting interests and clashing beliefs, then there have been no politics since the inauguration of the present administration. No models for reaching compromise have existed, nor have channels for dialogue been sufficient. What will become of a country without politics if it pours out political issues? The president will be driven into a situation where he can do nothing.
Despite this, the president takes a step back, repeating the same argument for the separation of the administration from politics. The prime minister, who is entrusted with plenty of authority, heaps abusive language on the opposition parties. The four-way talks of the ruling and opposition party leaders are shaken by the hard-liners from both sides. It is a strange situation in which we cannot see people who are truly engaged in politics even if there are many politicians.
For President Roh to finish his remaining term successfully, he should come up with special measures so as not to be shaken by the noise of political events. The key can be found in the restoration of lost politics. When it is based on the politics of compromise that can solve political issues, the president’s leadership will be able to focus on policy whether it is to put all energy into the economy or reform. The task should of course be carried out by the president who is primarily responsible for the operation of state affairs.
Richard Neustadt, a political scientist who has long lectured on the U.S. presidency at Harvard University, emphasized, “Presidential leadership comes from persuasion.” His explanation is that the success or failure of the president depends on how successfully the president can persuade the legislature, the judiciary and the people.
President Roh made the following pledge in his inaugural speech: “I hope a political culture will take root where problems are solved not by confrontation and conflict but by dialogue and compromise. I will take the lead in having dialogue and making compromises with the opposition parties.” The roadside trees are wavering here and there in the winter wind, as if staging a demonstration. What has become of the promise?

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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