[Viewpoint]A new start for Lee

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[Viewpoint]A new start for Lee

Candlelight vigils opposing the U.S. beef import deal have been going on for over a month. The light is not dying out. On the contrary, more and more people are gathering to light candles. What does President Lee Myung-bak think as he watches the spread of candlelights?

According to Blue House insiders, the president does not go to bed before midnight and he rises at 5 a.m. The first thing that comes to his mind could be frustration. “I have been working night and day, sacrificing a good night’s sleep. But all I see in the newspapers and television are people criticizing me. Before 100 days in office, some citizens started collecting signatures on the Internet calling for my impeachment. What have I done that was so wrong?”

His frustration could evolve into fury. “There still are people with impure intentions in this country. What if they are stirring up innocent students, spreading mad cow panic and encouraging candlelight vigils? I cannot let them overwhelm me.”

Of course, it is not likely that the president thinks this way. But if there is even the slightest bit of frustration or fury in his mind, we are in trouble. I am only making assumptions out of anxiety because the Blue House is delaying the release of its promised plan to reassure the citizens.

President Lee said in an interview with the U.S. news magazine Time on June 3 in response to a question that he agrees that ruling Korea is a great challenge.

Around this time of the year five years ago, the cargo workers’ union went on strike and then-President Roh Moo-hyun’s appointments were rejected due to opposition from the Grand National Party. President Roh said, “They all want to use force, and as the president, I cannot make every concession. I feel a sense of crisis, as if I cannot continue to serve as the president.”

Perhaps, former President Roh understands how President Lee feels, for he has already experienced the challenge. So Mr. Roh meant it when he said at the June 7 meeting of his support group that no matter how wrong the U.S. beef deal might be, it should not develop into a movement calling for President Lee’s resignation. It is about time that President Lee and his aides look back on their footsteps of the past 100 days. They will be able to find a solution to the confrontation over U.S. beef.

Last August, the JoongAng Ilbo worked with the Korea Legislative Studies Institute to evaluate the competence of the presidential candidates. Candidate Lee Myung-bak was asked what were the most urgent domestic and international pending issues he would try to address when he was elected president. He said that creation of jobs was the top domestic priority, and restoration of the Korea-U.S. alliance was the most important foreign policy task. On the free trade agreement, he said that its passage would depend 40 percent on the president’s will, 20 percent on cooperation from the National Assembly, 20 percent on cooperation from the media, 20 percent on popular support and 0 percent on contributions from bureaucrats.

So, the Lee administration’s foreign policy direction has followed his responses from 10 months ago. The president is said to have thought that the beef deal was an urgent issue in order to get the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement ratified. He emphasized that the creation of jobs and economic growth would start from there. By nature, the president takes visible accomplishments and results seriously, and he bartered U.S. beef imports for a restored alliance with the United States.

Nevertheless, the development of new media enables the people to watch each and every move of the government in real time, and the citizens now value the process over the result. The Lee administration took for granted the fact that the U.S. beef deal is useless if the people are not behind it. Former President Roh was elected thanks to the support of progressives, and even he had a hard time winning over his supporters as he pursued the FTA with the United States. President Lee and those around him witnessed the struggle in the transition period.

What made the citizens angrier is that the mothers who pushed their strollers to the rallies at Seoul City Hall Plaza saw the president of Korea on the television news, embracing the victims of the Sichuan earthquake during a visit to China.

Many Koreans are greatly disappointed by politicians who claimed to have been preparing during the last decade of liberal rule.

If we don’t learn lessons from the past, there is no reason to learn history. Reform and innovation starts with self-denial. You cannot reach a solution if you hold onto the things you did well. The second week of June 2008 is a very important time for the remaining 1,700 days of President Lee Myung-bak’s presidency and the future of the Republic of Korea.

*The writer is the deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Seung-hee
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