The president’s challenges

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The president’s challenges

President Park Geun-hye’s nationally televised statement on the Sewol ferry disaster has offered an ambitious blueprint for transforming our accident-prone country into a safer one. Her speech can be described as a relentless drive for change through administrative reform. The audience, including Kim Han-gill, leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), could hardly question the tears she shed while reading out the names of heroes who died while rescuing students trapped in the sinking ship. Many felt sympathy for her determination to disband the mismanaged Korea Coast Guard following the tragic deaths of more than 300 students. Yet her unflinching will to carry through an administrative revamp is only a step toward national rebirth because it must be backed by “software.”

If her administrative reorganization is an upgrading of the government’s hardware, an appointments revamp is the change needed in the software. Who will she appoint as prime minister, who will head the two huge organizations known so far as the National Safety Agency and the Administrative Innovation Agency? The Sewol tragedy explicitly showed who received posts they should not have. The president must find people with conviction, who argue for national interests while listening to people’s criticisms - instead of picking someone from a pool of loyalists. The president promised to create a “100-percent Korea” through appointments transcending the political and ideological divide. Only when she keeps that promise can she gain people’s trust - and succeed in her lofty goal.

The president also must change her own governing style. She must authorize ministers to appoint officials by themselves and allow presidential secretaries to freely express their views. Otherwise, her very presidency is endangered. The fact that the victims’ families rushed to strike a deal with the president herself after the disaster - instead of ministers in charge - reflects the one-way communication the president prefers.

The president’s ambitions cannot be fulfilled without help from the National Assembly. She must get support from the ruling and opposition parties alike. Opposition leader Kim Han-gill vowed to cooperate with the government. After Park’s governing style changes, she can create a “100-percent Korea” and regain the people’s confidence.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 21, Page 30

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