Park’s challenges continueToday marks the anniversary of the launch of the Park Geun-hye administration. It is fair to say that President Park has successfully weathered a relatively stormy situation since she took office a year ago. According to a JoongAng Ilbo survey, her approval rating has soared to 62.7 percent, an impressive 11.1 percent higher than the 51.6 percent of the vote she took in the election that made her president.
Her approval rating is particularly impressive compared to former presidents whose ratings dropped to less than 50 percent in their second year in office. The remarkable achievement primarily stems from Park’s unique political character epitomized by prudent words and action, as well as her solid support base among conservative voters. And yet some 40 percent of the people are still reserved about her or outright oppose her. Park’s campaign promises - such as making a “100 percent Korea” or “a country where all the people are happy” - have not been palpably achieved. It might be imprudent to celebrate too much on her anniversary.
The president has only about two years left to press ahead with her campaign vows with full authority, as a general election will be held in April 2016 followed by a presidential election in December of the following year. As lame duck status settles in amid the heated political battles before elections, the government will face trouble implementing policies.
Economic reform must be her top priority given the people’s strong desire for a stronger economy. Success depends on the restructuring of the economy, which will inevitably invite resistance from the establishment. Park’s vow to “normalize the abnormal” in the public sector above all and eliminate unnecessary regulations reflect her will to overcome such resistance. The government must accomplish tangible results this year given the huge amount of public debt, which amounts to 560 trillion won ($521.9 billion).
Park’s communication skills are still dubious. The JoongAng Ilbo survey shows her lowest support is in the political field.
Where the president shone was in the areas of security and diplomacy. She has pursued her signature “Korean Peninsula trust process” with flexibility. But daunting challenges await as always when dealing with North Korea.
Park’s diplomatic achievements with the United States and China also must be noticed. The trust she built through summits with Barack Obama and Xi Jinping will serve her well. Seoul-Tokyo ties are still in a deep freeze over historical and territorial issues. Despite Shinzo Abe’s terrible behavior, Park must find a breakthrough in the freeze to make her Northeast Asia peace initiative a success.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 30