[Viewpoint]Picking up the pieces

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[Viewpoint]Picking up the pieces

I feel extremely irritated and heavy-heartedthese days. The economy, crushed by skyrocketing oil prices, shows no sign of revival. Thousands of self-proclaimed innocent citizens are holding massive candlelight vigils every night and engaging in street demonstrations. The government remains dumbfounded after severe setbacks in public support. The National Assembly’s new term has already started, but lawmakers have failed to convene for legislative duty.

Nothing is moving forward, and no refreshing conclusion is in sight. Maybe it feels good to condemn the president in a candlelight rally and direct one’s anger at riot police, but most of the people cannot do so. Their hearts are just weighted down with heavy feelings.

The candlelight vigils to protest the resumption of U.S. beef imports finally forced the government’s surrender. It appears that the people’s just argument has won a victory. The administration had firmly said there would be no renegotiation, but it finally changed its position. The situation more than justifies the belief that the public won justice.

Is this the conclusion of protests? Is winning a victory against the government enough? Will the candlelights go out now?

I don’t think so. The candlelight vigils began as an anti-U.S. beef protest, but the beef issue is not the only thing that fueled them.

Let’s look at the participants in the rallies. They are from a wide spectrum of societal classes.

Mad cow disease is a concern, but the reasons behind the growing candlelight vigils reflect various complaints and unease in our society. They come from an innocent mother who wants to protect her child from mad cow disease and a middle school student who does not want to attend an early-morning class. They come from a labor union member at a public company who worries about large-scale restructuring and a low-income person whose livelihood is threatened by soaring oil prices.

Their protests evolved into complaints against the Lee Myung-bak administration, and the heat coming from the candlelights grew. Of course, some leftist groups and opposition parties have fueled this situation.

But even if the government renegotiates the beef deal with the United States, their complaints remain unresolved, and so do other problems of the Lee administration. Discontent will stay, and so will the government’s incompetence. The candlelight vigils may calm down temporarily, but the potential for them to reignite will remain unchanged.

The government is primarily responsible for the public dissatisfaction and insecurity. The people have chosen a conservative administration because they were fed up with the incompetence of the liberal administrations over the last decade. The merits of the conservatives are persistence and efficiency. The two, integrated together, can be called “pragmatism” or “practicality.”

The people had expected the Lee administration to work effectively and successfully, even though it has some ethical issues. However, the expectations were crushed within less than 100 days since Lee’s inauguration. The rich members of this administration were perhaps good at pocketing money on their own, but they were incredibly incompetent at running the government. The result is the plummeting approval rating, currently marked at about 20 percent.

The opposition parties and the liberal forces cannot be the alternative, however. They have already been judged by the people in the last presidential election and legislative elections. By joining the candlelight rallies, they are focused on attacking the Lee administration, but they also failed to present resolutions to calm public anger and ensure the nation’s future.

They are just irresponsibly enjoying the fall of the Lee administration. The approval rating for the major opposition party is only 10 percent. The people don’t support the conservatives, nor do they support the liberals. They are fed up with the incompetent conservatives and irresponsible liberals.

“On the right, nothing is left. On the left, nothing is right,” a financial industry worker was quoted as saying recently as he referred to the financial companies severely hit by the subprime mortgage crisis.

The statement can be applied in reverse to describe Korea’s reality. “On the right, nothing is right. On the left, nothing is left.”

The people have no one to rely on ? not the conservatives and not the liberals. I am afraid that the public, after feeling emptiness for having no one to depend on, may let off steam in no particular direction or fall into endless despair.

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

by Kim Jong-soo
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