[Veiwpoint] Politics vie with policies

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[Veiwpoint] Politics vie with policies

President Lee Myung-bak has changed. He is making political moves. Good policies and hard work are necessary to win public support. They are literally “necessary,” but often not enough.

He has come to realize that he cannot touch the public with sincerity alone. Policies are important, but politics are even more so.

Entrepreneurs are adaptable and quick to accept reality. If circumstances change, their thoughts and subsequent approaches alter accordingly. President Lee, with his corporate backbone, is also fast at reading and riding the change.

The latest cabinet reshuffle is proof of our modified president. Chung Un-chan, a celebrated economist and public critic of President Lee’s policies, has surprised many, including the main opposition Democratic Party, with his change of course by joining the administration.

But it was President Lee who was the more surprising.

President Lee’s change stems from realizing that his support base is fragile. His falling popularity has undermined his authority.

But the outcome was highly predictable. He lacks the “physical presence” of military rulers like Chun Doo Hwan and he doesn’t possess the historic legacy of dissenters like Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.

He doesn’t have the ethical backbone of the late President Roh Moo-hyun or a regional alliance like potential presidential candidates Park Geun-hye, Chung Dong-young and Lee Hoi-chang to rely on.

He has virtually nowhere to turn for a support base except himself.

But his weak foundation ironically has become his asset and strength. Because he has nowhere to lean on, he had to come up with impressive and palpable work to prove himself. A habit from his corporate executive days, he wanted to be evaluated on his performance.

He tried reaching out to the public while keeping a distance from the political circle.

But that didn’t work out quite right.

The more he veered away from the political base of Yeouido, the more he felt its presence.

The muscle of Yeouido legislators was demonstrated in the battle over contentious bills like the media reform bill and hearings on public appointments.

Their push is vital to President Lee’s other ambitious plans for a green economy, administrative realignment, constitutional amendment, political reforms and renovation work on four major rivers.

In his latest reshuffle, President Lee renewed and reinforced the role of political affairs.

He has recently appointed a special secretary on political affairs and a minister without portfolio whose primary role is to work as a bridge between the government and legislators.

He may have decided to strengthen his political footing now that he has grown more confident in managing the economy and other government affairs.

The Blue House has recently used words like neutrality, practicability, public-friendliness and unity. We can feel the weight tilting in favor of politics for strategic purposes as the president and his aides steer toward a definitive goal.

To restore his popularity, President Lee should aim at two strategic targets. He must regain the support of conservative voters and redeem those from neutral voters who cast a ballot in his favor in the last election.

To win back their favor, he must strengthen the alliance with the United States and maintain a consistent policy against North Korea.

He must accommodate ruling party legislators in his cabinet to show that the Grand National Party is in power while he is in office.

He has steered in that direction by sending former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye to Europe as a special envoy and appointing GNP legislator Choi Kyung-hwan as Knowledge Economy minister.

His chain of somewhat radical steps - populist policy decisions, appointments aimed for social integration, administrating former President Kim Dae-jung’s funeral at the National Assembly and nomination of Chung Un-chan as the prime minister - were taken to win back nonpartisan voters.

President Lee has seated himself at the driver’s seat with greater confidence for increased political unity. We cannot know how successful his trial with his new teammate Chung Un-chan will turn out at this stage. But if they are on the right track, they may leave many accomplishments in their wake.

*The writer is the head of the political consulting firm Min.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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