[Outlook]Lee and the GNPOn the way home from his first trip abroad as the nation’s leader, President Lee Myung-bak must have been experiencing two opposite feelings. He must have felt confident after he drew up an outline for diplomacy in the 21st century during his visit to Washington, New York and Tokyo. On the other hand, he must have felt a heaviness in his chest when he thought about the domestic affairs waiting for him in Seoul.
He is probably hopeful about his performance on the international stage thanks to his understanding of international affairs and Korea’s more prominent role in the global community.
But he perhaps feels that neither the ruling nor the opposition parties were doing much to help him.
But it seems to be the destiny of all presidents to face one situation in international diplomacy and another situation on the domestic front.
To handle diplomatic affairs, professional skills, a vast amount of information and good judgment are required. These are qualities the president alone possesses, which makes it difficult for other people to interfere in international affairs. However, when it comes to domestic affairs, opposition parties, civic groups, popular opinion and even the ruling party sometimes can block a president’s proposals.
Even American presidents who are known to have the strongest diplomatic power in the world can’t avoid this dilemma. Days before President Lee visited the United States, members of the U.S. congress refused even to vote on a free trade agreement with Colombia. President George W. Bush had planned to gain leverage from passing the U.S.-Colombia trade deal to ratify a similar agreement with Korea.
President Lee and President Bush, who spent a long time together during Lee’s two-day visit, probably shared their frustration over this matter.
However, for Lee’s plan to restore the economy to succeed, it is not productive to just blame the discrepancy between diplomacy and domestic affairs.
Domestic situations must improve as well. What’s most urgent is to build constructive cooperative relations between the president and the ruling party.
As seen in the painful experiences of former President Roh Moo-hyun, relations between the president and the ruling party are no longer unitary. They are partners that keep each other in check and cooperate at times.
In 2005 when Roh suggested a political coalition without consulting the ruling party, the party showed a cold response. The effort only produced discord without any tangible achievement.
In 2007, the former president succeeded in signing a free trade agreement with Washington but he made little effort to persuade opponents of the deal within the ruling party. As a result, the ruling party, which held many seats in the National Assembly, didn’t ratify the deal until the end.
The president’s interests, background and goals don’t usually match those of legislative members. The president is a leader for the entire nation, while lawmakers’ primary interests are those of their constituencies. The president has a single, five-year term, but lawmakers who have four-year terms are constantly aware of the next legislative elections. The president wants to make historic achievements, but lawmakers care about projects that benefit their constituencies.
Therefore it is important for the president and lawmakers to find common interests and to build trust. President Lee and the Grand National Party must make efforts to do so. For instance, the Lee administration’s project to restore the economy benefits both the president and the GNP. The success of the project will give them both privileges and advantages in the legislative elections in four years and the presidential election in five.
Thus, they should work on bills that guarantee benefits for both, such as implementing reforms in regulations or boosting competitiveness, rather than other issues on which the president and the ruling party have different opinions.
However, common interests and benefits don’t necessarily guarantee that they will trust each other. They should have pleasant conversations and share information to build trust. The U.S. president deals with leaders of some 100 countries in the world. But the U.S. president sometimes makes a call to an unknown legislator from Alabama or has dinner with a legislator from Montana, just the two of them, in an effort to pass a bill.
Last week in Washington and Tokyo, President Lee changed the tone of Korea’s diplomacy from being enraged to being energetic and confident.
Now is the time to change the domestic atmosphere as well.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon