[Viewpoint]Wisdom from the farmersDuring the Lunar New Year holiday, the farmers living in a rural village invited people who were just visiting their hometown to celebrate the holiday together.
Some 70 men in their 40s and 50s gathered at the town hall. Farmers, fishermen, businessmen, office workers, teachers, civil servants, real estate brokers and drivers attended the party. The oldest was nearly 20 years the senior of the youngest one, but they talked over cheap drinks all night long.
The farmers lamented the grim reality of agriculture, that their earnings can’t even cover the cost of labor and fertilizer. The ones with children complained about how expensive private education has become.
Some lost their jobs during the financial crisis, and factories are nearly going out of business because Chinese manufacturers are producing the same quality goods at more competitive prices. Naturally, the conversation turned to politics. Many anticipate that once the Lee Myung-bak administration begins, the economy will improve and people will struggle less in their daily lives. They hope that something will change now that we have elected an economy-oriented president.
They are also highly interested in the general election, scheduled for April 9. Some argued that a Grand National Party landslide victory would boost the new administration, while others countered that the opposition should be able to put a check on the ruling party to prevent it from becoming too big and arrogant. The public sentiment will be the same whether they live in a rural village or in a city, whether they are well-educated or not, and whether they are rich or poor. The citizens of the Republic of Korea are rushing toward the April general election.
The long holiday has come to an end, and we are back to our routines. Two weeks from now, the new administration will take over. Politicians are gearing up for the general election.
President-elect Lee is directing all his energy that way. The number of National Assembly seats the Grand National Party gets will be a key factor in getting rid of the old customs and reestablishing a new structure.
In fact, what contributed the most to Lee’s victory were his accomplishments during his stint as mayor of Seoul. In May 2002, when Goh Kun was mayor of Seoul, I asked him what he thought about Lee’s campaign promise to restore Cheonggye Stream. He called the project “impossible and foolish.” However, as soon as Lee was elected as mayor, he steadfastly pursued the project. And he did it.
The key to the success of the Cheonggye Stream restoration was the Seoul Metropolitan Council. In the regional election on June 13, 2002, the Grand National Party enjoyed a landslide victory, winning 87 of the 102 seats of the Seoul Metropolitan Council. The Democratic Party had held 83 seats until the election, and the crush of the ruling Democratic Party greatly boosted Lee’s confidence.
Maybe he was too proud in his early days. Only three days after the inauguration, on July 3, 2002, he committed an inconceivable blunder. I could not believe my eyes when he let his son and son-in-law pose for a picture with World Cup soccer team coach Guus Hiddink during a ceremony to present him with an honorary citizenship. The very next day, he attended his wife’s alumnae meeting while the country was about to be hit by a typhoon. The public harshly criticized his behavior, and Lee had to apologize. The criticism acted as a vaccine. The mayor became modest and began to listen to other opinions. The Seoul Metropolitan Council was a great prop for Lee, supporting him with budget and administrative procedures.
Lee is fortunate to have had these valuable experiences.
Reshuffling of personnel is also appropriate for the elections. However, the support of the voters cannot be earned so easily. As he presented clumsy policy promises, such as reinforcing English education in public schools, lowering cell phone service rates and lowering gasoline taxes, the voters are responding quickly. Recent polls have showed that the approval rating for the president-elect is declining. The citizens appreciate his confidence, but are afraid of his obsession for success.
The middle-aged farmers in the rural town say that a modest and prudent village leader who listens to other people makes the village prosperous and comfortable. The same goes for the president.
All of us are expecting the same virtues from the president of our country.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Young-yu