What about democratization?

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What about democratization?

After her New Year’s address, President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating plummeted. While political analysts say her lack of communication with citizens, power struggles among cronies and controversial appointments have disappointed many, the actual cause is the economy. Her emphasis in the news conference was economic, not political, and she tried to express her determination to save the economy from a prolonged slump. However, her understanding of the economy and vision were no less disappointing than her grasp of political issues. There are two main reasons why.

First, the announced measures are a far cry from what is needed. She basically reiterated the measures announced last year by the deputy prime minister for economy, who was replaced, and the ones promoted by the incumbent deputy prime minister but already considered a failure.

Secondly, and most importantly, she didn’t discuss the economic democratization she has promised to citizens as she proposes to reform the economic structure. In fact, she didn’t even mention it. The core message of the address related to the economy was ambiguous reform lacking economic democratization.

Park first promised economic democratization when she announced her candidacy for president and the last time she mentioned it was in the address in November 2013. She hasn’t spoken of it since. What’s going on in the past year or so? Citizens wonder if the president has changed her mind or believes economic democratization has been completed. In the presidential election, Park won a narrow victory. Many voted for her believing she would keep her promise for economic democratization, and they have a right to hear her answer.

She must not keep silent about economic democratization. The primary reason is that democratization is the most important task to save the Korean economy. She has explained the significance herself many times. When declaring her candidacy, she said, “I will make the dreams of the economically weak flow up again through economic democratization.” As she accepted the Saenuri Party’s nomination, she said, “Economic democratization is the first step of happiness for the citizens.” You may think she didn’t really mean it, that she said it to win votes. But in the inauguration speech, she once again emphasized, “We must accomplish economic democratization if a creative economy is to blossom.” The president’s proclamation is that economic democratization is necessary for a successful creative economy, and a creative economy is the primary policy goal of the current administration; I don’t need to spend any more time explaining its importance.

The second reason she must clarify her position on economic democratization is her responsibility to the citizens and ethics as a politician. The president has promised economic democratization many times. From the moment she declared her candidacy and throughout the campaign, she promised that the realization of economic democratization was the first core task for the happiness of citizens. But in the New Year’s address, she mentioned the word economy 42 times and didn’t mention economic democratization even once. This is no coincidence. It was her intention. It is the duty of the leader to explain why she has become silent on the economic democratization she promised and persuaded citizens was necessary for economic strength, peoples’ happiness and realizing a creative economy.

People don’t believe that economic democratization has been achieved and needn’t be discussed further. The president may have changed her mind that what she believed to be important during the campaign wasn’t so important anymore. If so, she needs to explain why she had second thoughts. But if she is breaking the promise and abandoning economic democratization, she must explain and ask for support. Economic democratization is not something she can just give up on her own.

In the late evening of Dec. 19, 2012, when her victory was confirmed, Park Geun-hye stood in the middle of the Gwanghwamun Square and pledged to “keep the promise to be a president who keeps the promises.” Economic democratization is not just the most crucial task for reviving the Korean economy, but also a promise to the citizens made by their president, who promised to be a president who keeps promises. She cannot equivocate and skip the topic. The president must answer.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 31

The author is a professor of management at Korea University.

by Jang Ha-sung

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