Speak directly to the people

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Speak directly to the people

When our society is dangerously rocky and jittery with surprising developments at home, the president is invisible. We hear nothing from her. Where is she, anyway? The president speaks to her cabinet members and senior secretaries. Her comments are relayed through them. The media report on her orders. It is a one-way conversation. Two-way conversations take place when the president answers questions from the press that ask what the public wants to know. President Park Geun-hye has not once held a press conference since she took office a year ago.

The public railway workers have been on a strike for more than two weeks - the longest in history. The opposition is manipulating the strike as a means to mount a protest against the government. The government repeatedly asserted that the plan to launch a new high-speed route with a new operator was not a preparatory step to ultimately privatize national high-speed rail service.

But the opponents claim otherwise. The frenzied spread and buildup of conspiracy theories and consequent social unrest are similar to the mad cow scare that gripped the nation in 2008. If law and order are disregarded, the streets could once again be occupied by protesters next year.

This could be an important test for the government. Yet the president is nowhere to be seen. In a senior secretariat meeting, she urged workers to return to work because their strike was unlawful. But indirect speech does not help.

She must speak directly to the people in live coverage. She must articulate the government’s stance that the public railway system will not be privatized, which is why the ongoing strike has no grounds. After pointing out the illegality of their actions, she should take strong action. The public will then understand.

From 1984 to 1985, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fought with miners violently protesting the shutdown of unprofitable and unproductive mining pits. She spoke her mind and implored that “the rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.” In the end, the decision to shut down unproductive coal mines won public support.

The execution of North Korea’s former No. 2 man Jang Song-thaek is a grave matter even the president herself has warned against. She should talk to the public about the significance of the event. U.S. presidents speak to the press often. President Barack Obama a few days ago held an hour-long conference before going on a holiday. Our president, too, must present herself confidently. President Park was elected with 51.6 percent of the vote. She still has a sound support base. She must address the people or otherwise the people may start thinking she has something to hide.

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