[Viewpoint]Hybrid politics

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[Viewpoint]Hybrid politics

In ideological terms, President Lee Myung-bak has become a minority political leader.

He won fewer votes than his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, in 101 out of 248 constituencies throughout the country. The conservatives united strongly for the 17th presidential election last December to regain the political initiative, yet the result was not that convincing.

In an early 2006 opinion poll, 39.1 percent of Koreans supported the conservatives, while 28.6 percent said they were progressives and 32.3 percent, middle-of-the-road.

The number of votes won by Chung Dong-young, the United Democratic Party presidential candidate who earned 26.1 percent of the vote in the 2007 presidential election, and Kwon Young-gil, the Democratic Labor Party candidate, was almost par with 28.6 percent ?? the proportion of progressives in the poll.

However, of the remaining 71.3 percent, votes by conservatives and middle-of-the-roaders went to Lee Myung-bak and Lee Hoi-chang: 48.7 percent to the former and 15.1 percent to the latter.

In other words, both conservatives and middle-of-the-roaders voted for President Lee.

What does that mean? President Lee didn’t get the full support of the conservative vote.

President Lee’s campaign advisers realized the problem during the presidential race.

A passage in the book “The Seven Marketing Secrets that Made a President” by a presidential adviser goes: “If you cook delicious food and the smell of the dishes spreads not only throughout the house but also across the mountains, the house rabbit will not leave the house even if the door is open. Not only that, mountain rabbits will gather round the house, too.”

This fable suggests that two different species ? the conservative vote (the house rabbit) and the middle-of-the-road vote (mountain rabbits) ? became one.

After all, 48.7 percent of the vote was the direct result of consolidating conservative support through the Grand National Party brand and attracting middle-of-the-road consumers through the new pragmatism brand.

This hybrid political grouping helps explain President Lee’s lack of ideological affiliation. Remember, he admitted, “I am not a conservative,” at the Blue House when he met United Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu on May 20.

In Korean politics, ideological orientation lies dormant during calmer weather, but the rain clouds of conflicting social issues provide fertile soil for ideological battles to prosper.

It is probably fair to say, then, that the true nature of “minority politician Lee Myung-bak” has been exposed during the chaos surrounding the U.S. beef import saga.

His administration has become a target to be “overthrown” by progressives, and is being criticized as incapable by conservatives.

Even middle-of-the-roaders who admire Lee’s pragmatism are skeptical about his economic skills.

Presidential aides say Lee’s approval rating has reached its lowest point, but his ratings could sink further. He lacks the kind of stable fan club that buoyed former President Kim Dae-jung, who could rely on the Jeolla provinces, or former President Roh Moo-hyun’s progressives.

The road back to the momentum of December 2007 is long and hard.

It seems there are impatient people around the president who have started to say, “There is no choice. Let’s just catch the house rabbit to be sure.” This is necessary, but not sufficient.

If the president wants to regain the approval ratings he enjoyed six months ago, he should acknowledge that he is a minority who must work hard to unite the 48.7 percent who supported him in the election.

Political power should begin with sharing authority. Right after the presidential election, I asked Lee’s aides, “What is President Lee Myung-bak’s Achilles’ heel?” They all said, “He doesn’t know politics or diplomacy very well.” If that is the case, there is no need to hold so tightly to politics. Lee just has to delegate authority, saying, “You are the president of politics,” and “You are the president of diplomacy.”

Authority doesn’t flesh itself out because you maintain a firm grip; the power you let loose can become a source of greater power.

Authority can be given away, and the president can evaluate its performance.

That is CEO-type leadership.

But there is something the president should do: He should devote himself to his own expertise, something no one else can do in his place. After all, he was not elected president because he knows politics well or has good diplomatic skills.

In addition, we must give government officials room to breathe. The morale of our civil servants is so low that there is a rumor in government circles that the entire officialdom and state apparatus is in crisis.

This country has had enough crises to last us a while.

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

by Park Sung-hee
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