[Viewpoint] Third year of Lee’s term is critical

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[Viewpoint] Third year of Lee’s term is critical

The Minjadang, or Democratic Liberal Party, was split in 1995, when the Kim Young-sam (YS) administration entered its third year. Ousting conservative heavyweight Kim Jong-pil, known locally as “JP,” happened early that year.

People close to the president spread anonymous rumors that JP would step down from his post and that the merger of the three parties into one new ruling party, the Minjadang, would become meaningless. YS did not deny the rumors at his New Year’s press conference.

In the end, JP declared, “I will pave my own way in the world.” JP achieved political independence after launching his own party, Jaminryeon, and the ruling party was completely defeated in the local election. Although the Minjadang had won the general election the following year, the conservative grand coalition began to sink into a pit. The process finally resulted in the creation of the DJP alliance (Kim Dae-jung, Kim Jong-pil and Park Tae-joon), a turnover of political power, and 10 years of rule by the Democratic Party.

The former presidents had followed similar paths. Their approval ratings drifted down as their administrations progressed. At first, they had sky-high popularity, but public hostility grew in each case and for similar reasons: Their families and relatives were involved in corruption, and fissures began appearing in the ruling party system.

In the third year of his term, a leader becomes more intoxicated with power. He and his close aids begin to assume a haughty attitude and they are easily led astray, which leads inevitably to constant troubles within the party.

Kim Dae-jung, or DJ, who came to power with the backing of the DJP alliance, and Roh Moo-hyun, who was inaugurated as president overwhelmingly backed by voters in the Jeolla provinces, followed similar paths.

Of course, it is difficult to conclude that their fluctuating approval ratings were mainly due to the divisions between Democrats. In addition, we may imagine a number of understandable reasons why they have shared such similar experiences. However, they can provide valuable experience that needs to be addressed in our continued efforts to manage the middle stages of the current five-year single-term presidency.

President Lee Myung-bak will mark the second anniversary of his presidency on Feb. 25, 2010, entering his third year as president. President Lee has many differences when compared to former presidents. Despite the significant difficulties he has faced during the early years of his term in relation to the candlelit rallies against U.S. beef imports, his approval rating soared during his second year in office thanks to his pro-public policies, landmark Gulf nuclear power deal and bringing this year’s G-20 Summit to Seoul.

The possibility of holding an inter-Korean summit has already improved. He may have confidence in his success, insisting that he will have a different third year. However, there are a myriad of higher-level tasks that await him. Several controversial issues - the four major rivers restoration project, political reform, the redrawing of administrative districts and constitutional reform - still remain unsolved.

And other difficult tasks still lie ahead: how to boost our national economy and create more jobs under the lingering influence of neo-protectionism, North Korean nuclear issues and inter-Korean summit talks. Upcoming political events - local elections in June, by-elections to fill a vacancy in the National Assembly in July and the party convention in August - may interfere with solving such huge national tasks.

It is high time to decide what to do and what not to do. He may be more motivated than ever in his third year because he has gained experience in national administration. However, there are perhaps too many tasks to be completed during the remaining period. Because of this, he should carry out such tasks on the principle of “selection and concentration.” Such an event as an inter-Korean summit may freeze out other considerations temporarily. However, that does not solve the other problems. Right after DJ held an inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the first time since the division of Korea into North and South Korea, his job approval rating soared from 37.7 percent to 54.4 percent but later drifted down to 30.2 percent. In contrast, those with a negative view of his job performance soared from 18.2 percent to 51.4 percent.

The Sejong City issue requires urgent attention. President Lee has already provided a detailed account of his logic to those who support the original plan. What remains to be done is finalization. There is also a clear path to follow to this end. The National Assembly should be responsible for producing a bill on the project. It suits the purpose of a representative system. In cases where no agreement is reached, it may be necessary to put the matter to a vote.

However, the essence of politics is communication and compromise. In this regard, President Lee Myung-bak needs to have a frank discussion with former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye. A public debate will inevitably lead to misunderstanding.

If a compromise cannot be reached, the final option would be to reject the revised plan. He should reach a conclusion to hold a vote or transfer the matter to the next president.

It is time to choose a course. While faced with obstacles, he should not delay dealing with other administrative matters.

People alone will judge whether he has made a decision based on a political calculation. As in the Judgement of Solomon, he should behave like the child’s true mother, who would have sooner given up her baby than seen it split in two.

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

by Kim Jin-kook

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