Three proposals for 2013The Year of the Snake has dawned in the eastern part of the world where the people were the first to see the sun rise on 2013. A new day has risen above the Korean Peninsula, where its 50 million people in the southern half awoke with hopes for a turning point following two major elections the previous year. The sun goes up and down as the world turns. Yet it is human nature to bestow sentimental meanings on a new day and a new year.
We put a new calendar on our desk or on the wall and walk into a new chapter in history. We set our sail to bring us into new waters. We push ahead with new enthusiasm against, perhaps, unfavorable winds or currents. Yet our fears and apprehension grow when darkness falls. Our travel has begun, but the path remains uncertain and the final destination even more so.
The country returned to business as usual after the presidential election. Some said they wept for days after learning the result and complained of the futility of exercising their voting rights. Some comforted themselves saying they could wait another five years. Others sighed in relief that the country had been saved from extremists. I suffered a severe fever after all the manifestations of collective hatred, exhilaration, anxiety, relief, uneasiness, and anxiousness ebbed away.
The fever receives no relief from promising words, opaque politicking and negotiations. The nasty fog and dark clouds over this nation will only lift if the new government can assure us that it is determined to pave a new course for the country toward unity and politics for the people. We are not so desperate to pin hopes on a figurehead sitting on a high horse of order and principle. We need a working, acting leader who starts with small but meaningful steps toward ending social fissures and caring for the people. I made a list to help her make a beginning.
First, the president-elect should demand Kim Jae-chul, president of MBC, to step down for causing serious damage to public television broadcasting. Reporters cannot be excused for their walkout, but the fact that a public TV broadcaster wasted valuable airtime with reruns and poor quality content for 160 days is an inarguable reason to dismiss the head of the network and cause of the strike.
For the same reason, Hyun Byung-chul, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, has to go. Under his chairmanship of the last five years, the agency went in the opposite direction of protecting the public’s human rights.
Second, the president must entice the conglomerates, or chaebol, to seek solutions to corporate reforms and economic justice and persuade the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to cooperate with the corporate sector to reduce inequalities. Increasing jobs and enhancing employment security are impossible without cooperation from the militant unions of large manufacturers. Without their support, promises to improve conditions for non-salaried workers are hopeless. Unions must ask themselves what they have done to improve the overall rights of workers and let the people judge them.
At the same time, wrongful law enforcement and violations of legitimate union activities must be legally scrutinized. Authorities should investigate the civilian security forces that used physical force at demonstrations and why unionists had to kill themselves in protest. Unions have also done wrong, but the companies should be advised to withdraw costly lawsuits against union activists. About seven corporate unions are engaged in lawsuits worth 100 billion won ($94 million), including 15.8 billion won in the case of Hanjin Heavy Industries’ union and 19.5 billion won against MBC’s union.
Third, the president-elect should resolve misunderstandings and controversies as early as possible. She should clearly explain her relationship with the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation she headed until 2005. No one knows better how the fund was set up and what it did for the last 30 years than President-elect Park.
She repeatedly said the fund helped students and had no political involvement although it was initially created by her father, President Park Chung Hee, in the 1960s. Since questions about the fund linger, she should settle the issue before she is inaugurated. She could suggest donating the fund to the nation’s assets and have the National Assembly discuss its future. It would be a small sacrifice if she is intent on the goal of social unity.
How does a leader return hope and laughter to the lives of ordinary people? How can one help a small shopkeeper and family stop worrying about making ends meet and paying off debts? The solution may not be that remote. Reviving the construction business, providing service sector work to retired, unemployed and job-seeking people, and helping self-employed start-ups could be a start. The transition team should devote the next two months to ideas and resources to reinvigorate the labor market and sagging economy. The times are too urgent to waste on putting friends and patrons in government positions. The new government may even have to skip the customary honeymoon.
People’s desires can be kept alive with small but resolute steps from their new leader. The president-elect should demonstrate her will to save the economy. We sincerely hope that we won’t find ourselves disappointed and even frustrated around this time next year.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a sociology professor of Seoul National University.
By Song Ho-keun