[Viewpoint] Korea’s apolitical politician

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[Viewpoint] Korea’s apolitical politician

The writer is a chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Lee Myung-bak receives a relatively good evaluation for his diplomacy and economic measures. He did a decent job at a recent summit with the president of the United States in Washington. But can he also receive as good an evaluation for his domestic governance? On the trip home in his presidential jet, he must have pondered the stalemate in the current situation in Korea with a heavy heart.

He said he would listen to opinions from different sides of society and present fundamental remedies for our problems. Such talk gave people expectations. But the people want him to do what they have already asked him to do. In particular, the people have repeatedly demanded that Lee engage in politics. The request is still valid and it is an important way to address our problems.

As the head of the administration, the president is the core of politics, surrounded by the National Assembly, the political parties and civic organizations. The president is directly elected, which is called the key to politics. Simply put, the president’s job is politics. If the president is disinterested in and ignores politics, it is the same as a singer who does not sing or a pitcher who does not pitch.

Yet it is well-known that President Lee abhors politics. In his books and lectures, he complains that Korea’s politics are extremely inefficient. In one of his books, he wrote that politicians only cater to money, factions, networks and bosses. Politicians do not need the basic ability to think or make judgments. They do not need to take responsibility. All they need to do is to find the right leader or faction to follow to make them successful.

It is understandable that Lee is turned off by our country’s politics, considering that politicians have physically brawled using chain saws and sledgehammers at the National Assembly. The opposition party tries to stop the administration’s bill, calling it MB’s evil law, using the initials of the president’s given name, and left-wing civic groups frequently shout for the overthrow of the administration and take to the streets. Nevertheless, the National Assembly represents the people, even though it can be irritating and one would often rather have nothing to do with it. But this is a democracy, and there is no way to take a detour around the parliament. No matter how great the president’s ideals and vision may be, if they do not pass in the National Assembly they cannot work. Only by passing the Assembly can his vision materialize into policy. Only then can his measures advance our country.

The primary reason why the president’s ambitious projects have not been carried out rests with the National Assembly. As bills get stuck in the legislature, projects cannot get under way. Yet the president still lacks methods to deal with lawmakers. Though the president is entirely uninterested in politics, there are no aides who can work in politics in his stead. Nothing gets done and affairs of state stop. Social conflict has intensified and the general public has become agitated. This is mostly because Lee has given up on participating in politics.

Some figures in the ruling party say that it is impossible to have dialogue with the opposition party as it only opposes whatever bill the administration and Grand National Party propose. However, the president and the ruling party must open their hearts even wider and try even harder to persuade the opposition party to move forward, because the people are watching. The people will measure their sincerity and decide whether they are acting reasonably. If the president can win the people’s hearts, the opposition party cannot stubbornly oppose his bills. That is the magic of politics.

We should pay attention to the current situation. Despite countless people mourning over the late former president, politics in the square that the opposition party had planned have gone up in smoke. The people’s disappointment with the incumbent administration led many to gather and mourn across the country. But at the same time, the opposition party’s political maneuvering to turn the situation to an attack against the incumbent administration failed to earn the support of the people. That shows that the people have acquired a very sophisticated understanding of politics. President Lee must pay attention to this, engage in politics with sincerity and win over the people who have turned their backs on him.

The president can begin by making efforts to earn support from his own party. When his key bills are not fully supported by the ruling party, like now, he lacks momentum to have discussions with the opposition party. He must make sure that the ruling party fully supports him like a family member and then he must try to persuade the opposition party and make compromises. He can have direct contact with the people - sit down with them and actually communicate - if need be. Speeches over the radio are not very effective because few people listen, and to those that do it looks like the president is afraid and is hiding from the public.

But he must not accept tricks or maneuvering as a way of engaging in politics. He may be able to hide what really happens and mislead some people part of the time, but he cannot fool the highly aware people all the time. That would be shooting himself in the foot. He must change his indecisive manner, which has kept him from appointing the head of the National Tax Service for months, because timing is very important in politics. If he regains the ambition and energy that he used to have when he led Hyundai Construction on the global stage, and recovers the sincerity that he had when he persuaded opponents of the Cheonggye Stream project, the situation could change dramatically.

The president was once an idol and a legend to company employees. He wrote that he did not take a detour in the face of crises and challenges that came at him from all directions. He said that people tend to call such a person a legend, but he declared that there is no legend who becomes successful in a magic way.

He is right. There is no legend in this world. There is no way for the president to become successful if he gives up on politics.

*The writer is a chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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