[VIEWPOINT]Judging the candidatesWe have to elect a new president around this time next year. The Constitution stipulates that “the successor to the incumbent president shall be elected the first Wednesday after the date of seventy days before his term expires.” The president’s term of office ends on Feb. 24. Therefore, Dec. 19th is the date of the presidential elections next year. And we have exactly one year left until then.
Since 1987, when the era of democratization swung open in full in this country, we have elected four presidents: Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. However, we started to regret our choices from the moment elections were over. These presidents had close to 90 percent approval ratings when they came into office, but they brought disappointment to the people as their terms of office came close to the end.
Just as young people have to be responsible for their own decisions and choices when they become adults, it is now time for our people to be responsible for the president they elect. It has already been more than 50 years since democracy was first introduced in South Korea, and we have had the experience of learning lessons under a democratic political system for 20 years.
Restructuring of the political community, separations and mergers of political parties and candidates and enticing political slogans and negative campaigns will be rampant as the election approaches, making it hard for the people to make their choice for the coming years. It is easy to miss the beautiful scenery of the forest as a whole if you are too busy looking at the trees.
There is no perfect presidential candidate. We need to look for a candidate who has the leadership qualities to lead the Republic of Korea well for the coming five years.
Fred Greenstein, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University, points out that “emotional intelligence” is the most important qualification for a president in his book, “The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush.”
Assessing past U.S. presidents, Mr. Greenstein says that Lyndon B. Johnson failed because of a serious emotional shortcoming and Richard Nixon failed because of his inner rage and delusions. Mr. Greenstein says that Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt succeeded because they had high emotional intelligence. He points out that “If the president loses his emotional stability, the presidency turns into a very dangerous system.” For the Korean people, who have already experienced such damage, his words are relevant.
One thing that should be scrutinized along with the candidates themselves is the election camp of each candidate.
The press and civic organizations say that “policies are important.” This is of course true. However, it becomes difficult to differentiate between policies as it gets nearer to the end of the race. Everybody knows that issues like the cost of private education, real estate prices, the North Korean nuclear development program, employment and social polarization are important on the agenda of our society.
All presidential candidates are bound to present policies toward solving these problems. Even if a candidate presents a good policy, other candidates will soon present a similar one. Eventually, most of the policies become similar to each other. Therefore, instead of looking at each policy in detail, it is better to find out what the overall direction and goal of the policies are and make a decision on which candidate to choose based on these observations. In order to find out the overall policy direction and goal of each candidate, we need to look at the composition of the candidate’s election campaign organization.
A president-elect cannot get away from his camp. Members of the camp become the chief of staff, senior secretaries and secretaries of the Blue House, cabinet ministers and vice-ministers, and even presidents and inspectors of public companies. The president-elect does not come into power alone. The president-elect takes the helm of the state together with the members of his camp. They form the base of the human resource pool of the administration. Their culture and philosophy become the culture of the administration and the philosophy that guides state affairs.
We should now stop blaming ourselves for making the wrong choice. If we get dazzled by the enticing public pledges of a candidate and get disappointed over small mistakes made by another, it can ruin our judgment. The presidential election is not a popularity vote for a singer or a celebrity. We must choose one after examining all the candidates as we look at the forest. When we are ready to take responsibility for our decision, nothing can damage our choice.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo