[Viewpoin]From CEO to head of stateAn opinion poll has showed that one of three voters who cast their votes for Lee Myung-bak in the presidential election are not going to support the ruling Grand National Party in the general election. Factions within the Grand National Party have openly started a power struggle. How did the situation become so chaotic only a month into the new administration?
The president is expected to play two roles. One is as head of state representing the whole country. The other is chief executive to lead the executive branch. The latter is a functional and managerial role to maintain state affairs and the economy while the former is a symbolic role that puts a face on the country abroad and brings its citizens together. President Lee’s actions and words ever since his inauguration have mostly reflected his functional role as chief executive.
His biggest emphasis has been on civil servants. The president spelled out principles for civil servants. He called on them to reduce red tape and remove unused utility poles and stressed that public employees are servants to the people. Taxpayers are paying their salaries even when they are struggling themselves. The president acts like a CEO reproaching lazy and irresponsible employees. He’s acting as if he was micromanaging a company of civil servants.
Another issue he has been emphasizing is the economy. He ordered price controls for instant noodles and warned of the biggest economic crisis since the oil shock of the 1970s. It is hardly wrong to spur civil servants and try to revive the economy. So what has caused the GNP’s current crisis?
Complaints seem to focus on his appointment decisions for government positions, the party’s nomination choices for the general elections and the general direction of the state’s administration. The origin of these problems stems from a lack of understanding of the role of the head of state. Let’s look at Lee’s appointment decisions since taking office. Even if the president owes his victory to the support of a certain region, he is supposed to be the president for all citizens.
There are rumors that figures from a certain region have been excluded from the appointments in the executive branch. If he had been more sensitive to regional tensions, the atmosphere could have been largely different.
The class issue is the same. He is the president of the wealthy and the poor, of union members and management, of salaried workers and corporate owners. It is not advisable that his cabinet is filled with only those with money. It is also not good to favor a certain religion. The president should be a symbol of integration transcending region, class, faction and religion. Party nominations are bound to cause controversy. Politics is the arena where the struggle for survival is most evident and straightforward. Politicians cover their personal interests with plausible justifications. What the president can do for interest seekers is either overpower them with authority or lead them with justification.
The president has to possess something that can make them follow him. Ironically, a president gains authority when he transcends factions and cliques. He can have charisma only when he forgets about personal connections or private interests. If the president really wants to transcend political factions, he does not need to cling to the Grand National Party’s majority. He should also not be so concerned about “officials with different colors,” referring to those who were appointed during the last administration and do not share his views. He cannot ignore terms in office as they are defined by the law and dismiss them. When the president defends the law despite difficulties in reality, he gains legitimacy.
The economy cannot be saved by passion alone. It also takes more than management skills. As head of state, it would be enough for him to propose a bigger picture for the future and define principles and direction.
The position of president is valuable in and of itself. A president is expected to be righteous, bring peace and give hope. His words make people move, and his touch comforts people. He can change the image of the entire nation. Depending on his outlook, he can change the future of the country.
President Lee has displayed enough devotion to manage the country as its chief executive. Now, it is time he ascends to the position of head of state and becomes a symbol of the country that transcends all of reality’s petty details.
*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial pages of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk