[Outlook]Roh’s accomplishments will live onPresident Roh Moo-hyun has pronounced judgement on his own administration. He said it was correct that the participatory administration was a failed one at a briefing on Tuesday. It must have been painful to admit that voters have deemed his government a failure, especially when his term is nearing its end and it is nearly impossible to improve the situation.
He might feel this is unfair. His administration gave itself passing grades in a self-evaluation but the people flunked it without even considering it carefully. If you read between the lines, he seems to feel more than just sad and disappointed. One wonders if he feels rage in his heart.
If we look at things closely, some of his achievements are more underrated than they deserve. A good example is the practice of spending a huge amount of money during election campaigns. We can see the difference easily if we compare the incumbent administration to former ones. Before, when there were elections, the entire country was worried about politicians spending too much money to win. It was believed that several trillion won (several billion dollars) was used for one presidential election. During National Assembly elections, rumors circulate that if candidates spend 500 million won they will win, but with 400 million won, they will lose. Some statistical data showed that during election campaigns the volume of currency in the market was different from usual.
This practice has changed under this administration. While President Roh has been in office, two sets of elections were held; the 17th National Assembly elections and local elections in May last year. They were the most transparent elections in Korea’s history. Considering that our society is not very transparent yet, even people who do not support President Roh would find it hard to deny his contribution to cleaning up election campaigns.
There is another thing. The people do not know what the president’s children and their spouses do for a living. In fact, the people feel there is no need to know. Nobody has ever heard that the first lady is involved in any business using her husband’s power and influence. That’s very good not only for the president’s family, but also for the entire people. The president’s family not misusing power sounds very natural, but, unfortunately, that was not the case under past administrations.
Under all of the four former administrations, when the president’s term neared its end, it turned out that the families and relatives of the president had wielded power in public sectors, throwing the country into chaos. Even now we hear news about the son of a former president trying to use his father’s prestige for his own success.
President Roh must feel that he is being unjustly evaluated on his North Korea policy. Whoever the president may be, it is hard to give up a reconciliation policy. Unless the president wants a war, he cannot avoid having talks with North Korea. That would have been the same even if the Grand National party had assumed power. Some criticize him for “shoveling” aid to the North, but it will be hard for any leader to isolate North Korea and take a wait-and-see approach.
Lately, even the Grand National Party, which has vigorously criticized the president’s North Korea policy, announced that it would abandon its hard-line stance on North Korea. President Roh’s approval rating fell in part due to that issue. He probably wants to demand that the Grand National Party restore his approval rating.
President Roh’s North Korea policy is comparatively better than the former administration’s Sunshine Policy because no one suspects the incumbent administration of passing money under the table. It would be hard to do so given that President Roh is the one who decided to form a special prosecution team to investigate illegal transfers to the North during the Kim Dae-jung administration.
For this decision, President Roh was badly treated by the North, and South Koreans derided him, saying that he poured aid into the North only to be snubbed. But inter-Korean relations have become much more transparent. It will be much easier for the next administration to get consent on North Korea policy from the people.
I believe that the people have not forgotten these achievements. There is no reason for President Roh to feel unjustly treated or enraged. If he sticks to his principles, the people will evaluate achievements as achievements and misdeeds as misdeeds. Before assuming power, Mr. Roh was never afraid to start something from scratch.
After leaving office, he will need to make another new beginning, whatever that may be. If the president is prepared to start from scratch again, that would be just enough.
*The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Gyo-jun