Share sincerity with the peopleThe landscape surrounding power has changed. Leadership changes its appearance and this means changes in state affairs. President-elect Park Geun-hye is presenting a new standard for using her power.
The peak of a president’s power comes when he or she is the president-elect. Five years ago, then President-elect Lee Myung-bak went to a service at the Somang Church to appreciate his victory and a New Year’s celebration of his Korea University alumni. Ten years ago, then President-elect Roh Moo-hyun joined a congratulatory gathering hosted by his support group, Nosamo.
It is dramatically different today. Park didn’t go to the New Year’s gathering of her Sogang University alumni. No Park loyalists hosted a celebration. Her associates remained low-profile.
Park is exercising her power with restraint. She never shows off. That restraint strengthened the dignity of her power. There is a tacit agreement among her associates that they won’t talk about their personal connections to her. That restraint is also a special consideration for President Lee as she is trying to respect the authority of the incumbent leader of the country.
Her restraint is applied in her personnel management strategy, too. She seeks more stability than glamour. “A person who acts based on their own interests is undesirable. For me to work with someone, we should be able to trust each other,” Park once said. That probably motivated her to nominate Kim Yong-joon, head of her presidential transition team, to become the first prime minister.
Park is well aware of the nature of power in the Blue House. When she was a lawmaker, she said, “No one knows better than me the nature of power and the emptiness of power.” In 2005, Park met with then President Roh as an opposition leader. In that meeting, Roh proposed a grand alliance but Park turned it down. “I have seen from a close distance what it means to be the president. It is a position to which you have to give your full attention for 24 hours and assume unlimited responsibility,” she said.
Park’s confident remarks came from her experience and training. During her father Park Chung Hee’s rule, she worked as acting first lady for more than five years. Her role was different from other first ladies who followed her. “I have listened and learned about the philosophy of state affairs and leadership from my father at the dinner table and in the car on the way to field trips,” she recalled.
The mechanism of Park’s politics is simple and clear. Trust and principles are her brands. Trust is strictly applied to her policies and her resolute policies have earned her special prestige. When she labels it as a promise, it is kept at all cost. “In my dictionary, there are no words for a broken promise,” she said. Promise is the endorphin for Park’s political emotions and it produces her will to win power.
Policies often face opposition and demands for revision, but Park just pushes forward with her promises. She has faced criticism for lacking ability to communicate and be flexible. However, she flatly rejects it. “It is not about communication when you reverse a conclusion which was made after thorough contemplation,” Park said. “It just fuels distrust in politics.”
“During my political career, I’ve learned it is important for a man to have principles,” she said. In her administration, pledges won’t be revised easily and hastily because it will be seen as an act to undermine trust in her government. A minister who fails to implement pledges will be labeled as one without principles.
And Park’s way of using her leadership will be different from those in the past. Kim Yong-joon explained that the paradigm is being shifted. In the past, administrations leaked policies and personnel appointment decisions in advance. They were scrutinized by the media and resolved the thirst for information. Park, however, sees it as an act of populism. She despises this approach.
That prompts criticism about unnecessary secrecy, but she will keep that approach because she believes it will prevent confusion about policies. She needs to put an end to this controversy at an appropriate time and close the gap between secrecy and the right to know. Only then, Park’s way will be received as a new experience for the people. That’s also a challenge for all members of the transition team.
The success of her presidency will be decided by sharing her sincerity with the people. She must win public support for her promises. How far her government will implement policies will guarantee the support, but she must remember that her presidential tenure is only five years. That’s why her relationship with the public is crucial. She must systemically promote her will to follow through with her pledges and strategies. The public often has little patience.
President Lee treated the importance of public relations lightly. He thought the people will be able to tell if he works hard. He was wrong. The Lee administration experienced frustration for relying on that belief. Good public relations are the key to a five-year-term president’s success.
Park’s secret weapon is her power to mobilize the people. Her ability is unrivaled. No politician can match her. And her ability to move the people will be reinforced by successfully sharing her sincerity.
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon