[FORUM]Roh’s gambles often mistakenThe landslide victory of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections in Japan fully displays the exquisite beauty of politics. The trump card of dissolving the lower house of the Diet and calling for early elections that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi played paid off well. At the time he dissolved the lower house, dominant predictions were that the Liberal Democratic Party would suffer a disastrous defeat. The analysis was that by absurdly staking his party, he was choosing a suicidal path. His move was such that it was even called “gambling.” Mr. Koizumi overturned this unfavorable situation, however, and led the country’s most historically overwhelming victory. This was a political drama with an unexpected victory following thrilling suspense.
There could be many factors behind Mr. Koizumi’s unexpected victory. Some say the reformist image created by his plan to privatize the postal service worked in his favor. Others believe the main factor in his victory was his effective election strategy of nominating “customized assassin candidates” to target opposition forces who had opposed his reformist agenda and left the party. They are right in their political analysis. But those analyses, based on political engineering, overlook the most fundamental factor in his victory. That factor is the recovery of the Japanese economy.
If the Japanese economy had still been doing poorly and had not overcome its decade-long stagnation, could Mr. Koizumi have won the elections? Could he even have played his card of dissolving the lower chamber and calling for early parliamentary elections at all? If he had had no confidence in the recovery of the economy, he would hardly have laid down the card that might put an end to his political career. His pride in saving the economy during his term in office and his firm belief in the reforms he had pursued were the hidden cards that enabled him to take a political gamble. He was holding the ace that would enable him to win the election.
The statistics for Japan’s gross domestic products in the second quarter of this year clearly show the basis for Mr. Koizumi’s gamble. They show the Japanese economy in the second quarter grew 3.3 percent, three times higher than the original forecast of 1.1 percent. The substance of the growth was also solid. Japan’s economic growth structure has changed to a stable one in which domestic demands, including spending and investment, lead, not a lopsided model in which growth depends on exports alone. Foreign investment funds are rushing in and stock prices are rapidly rising. This reflects the Japanese people’s support and expectations of economic reform from Mr. Koizumi.
The essence of the economic reforms pursued by Prime Minister Koizumi is tax reduction and deregulation. The privatization of Japan Post symbolized the Koizumi-style reform that transferred economic power from the government to the private sector. In other words, his reform intends to build a privately run, market-centered economic system. Tax reductions and deregulation encouraged businesses to invest in Japan. This created a circle of growth in which businesses’ expansion of investment led to an upturn in the economy, an increase in employment and income and a promotion of spending.
Now let’s look at Korea’s domestic situation. President Roh Moo-hyun laid down his hidden card when calling for the “formation of a coalition government,” saying he may transfer all power to the opposition party. His hidden card lost its luster from the beginning, however, because of negative public opinion and its rejection from the Grand National Party.
In fact, President Roh has made large and small bets since he took office. Although he succeeded in the breakthrough of winning legislative elections after the presidential impeachment crisis, his gambles, such as his argument for Korea’s balancing role in Northeast Asia and the controversy he stirred up over our history, just fanned the flames of conflict and confrontation in many cases.
Why is this so?
First of all, a hidden card should not be used often. It should be saved for a critical moment of life or death, not thrown down every day. Secondly, Mr. Roh frequently made the mistake of betting on the wrong issue. For example, he made the misapprehension that he could not implement policy properly because of his low approval rating, instead of considering that his support rate is low because he does not carry out policy properly. When the cause and effect are reversed, it is easy to play the wrong card. Another example of his misunderstanding of context is that he is pushing political reform, saying the economy can revive when politics are set straight. Disregarding his bet on the economy’s recovery, he is betting on the wrong issues.
More than anything else, President Roh’s card is too shabby to bet on. Since he came into office, the economy has failed to escape recession. He does not have much prior performance to showcase. In addition to this, his reform seeks to break from the past.
This is far from Mr. Koizumi’s reform, which opens up the future.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo