[Viewpoint]Take it slow, Lee

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[Viewpoint]Take it slow, Lee

The new powers have begun to work. President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s aides are confident and full of ambition as they launch a new era. Their eyes shine and their voices are confident. The presidential transition committee’s office is inside the Korea Banking Institute in Samcheong-dong, Seoul.
The institute is just across from the Blue House, but the difference between the new power and the old is significant. While the people in the incumbent administration are silently packing, the new figures are busy drawing a blueprint for when they take office. Even though the incumbent president’s term is not yet finished, the shift in power is already happening.
The people on the transition team are in a hurry. They need to form a structure and sketch out how they will lead the country in less than two months.
President-elect Lee pushed his transition team to produce a plan on how to put together the administration within 10 days. It is understandable that he wants to form the cabinet before he gets inaugurated, but he seems to be in too much of a hurry. His plans to lower gasoline prices and cell phone fees are one and the same. He seems to be trying to make tangible achievements as quickly as possible. The problem is that if he wants to do something in a such a short time, things might go wrong. His plans might even fall apart.
The transition team needs to draw plans for the new administration. It bears historical importance because the policies chosen now will change the basic pattern in which the governmentwas run for the past 10 years. Thus, the transition team must look 10 or 20 years ahead, instead of five years, when setting the policy directions.
In this sense, the power transition will not be a simple procedure, from one incumbent administration to the next. Not only are the people in power being replaced, but the goals and policies of the administration are being completely changed. The new administration will be entirely different from the incumbent one.
Another task for the transition team is, therefore, how to handle the chaos revolving around the changes and to launch the new administration smoothly.
A president’s power is endowed by the people. In a single, five-year term, the president’s power is limited. The president has the right to run the country for five years, but there are hidden limits. In a legal sense, it is wrong to draw policies that go beyond five years. But the new president is required to present a long-term vision. That is the president’s dilemma. The president must carry out policies that extend beyond his term, but do so within the limit of his term.
It is dangerous for a president to wield power that he is has not been specifically endowed. President Roh Moo-hyun, for example, pushed to transfer the administrative city despite controversy that the project was unconstitutional. He pushed hard for the project, despite fierce opposition, even though it might not have even begun until after he left office.
The president claimed that he was only keeping a pledge he made during the election. Still, even the people who elected him did not support that pledge. The people entrusted President Roh with the right to run the country, but they did not necessarily agree with every one of his pledges. He pushed too hard, creating chaos in the affairs of state and sharply dividing the people. Shutting down the press rooms in the government offices was also a misuse of his power. The people have to wait a full five years to hold the president accountable for his misrule. Even then, the people in power are not held directly responsible.
President-elect Lee is facing the same risk. During the last presidential election campaign, the policies were barely debated ― unlike in past campaigns. This time around, the people didn’t look carefully at Lee’s pledges before electing him. And again, just because the people elected him does not mean they agree with every one of his pledges.
Lee must resolve this problem. He must constantly communicate with the people.
He can’t exert all of his plans at will, even though he been given the power to do so under law. In particular, if he wants to exert certain powers that have not been not entrusted to him, he must earn the people’s support. He must communicate with the people to seek their consensus and agreement. This is the right thing to do for a leader who serves the people.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo

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