Woo must go

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Woo must go

The approval rating of President Park Geun-hye has plunged to 26 percent, the lowest since she took office in February 2013. The dramatic fall, according to a Gallop Korea survey in the second week of October, presages a tough road ahead for the president until she finishes a five-year single term in February 2018. Her approval rating did not drop below 29 percent even after many Koreans’ tax bills went up or during the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome last year. The figure did not fall to that level even after the ruling Saenuri Party’s crushing defeat in the April 13 general election.

The steep downturn over the last four weeks reflects a collapse of her support base. The approval rating of the president is a crucial underpinning necessary for her governance down the road.

An appropriate level of support is essential for the president to run the nation. If her presidency is not backed by public support, she has to confront tough challenges. When it sags at the end of her term, her administration cannot but face a lame duck situation in which officialdom does not listen to what the president says and the public loses its trust in the president. Park’s approval rating of 26 percent in the fourth quarter of her fourth year in office is higher than former President Roh Moo-hyun’s 12 percent, but is lower than President Lee Myung-bak’s 32 percent and Kim Dae-jung’s 31 percent at the same point.

President Park must consider what the number really means. In retrospect, the president turned her face away from the public after the ruling party’s overwhelming general election loss in April. She did not make efforts to change her governance style or her reliance on an insular inner circle and blind adherence to principles she cherishes. In politics, too, she failed to demonstrate a sense of co-governance with the opposition even after her party’s defeat. Instead, she chose to rely on her loyalists, who have become targets of national ridicule.

When the president isolates herself in the presidential office and only demands submission from ministers and aides, no one dares to talk to her straight. Despite her strict handling of her relatives since her inauguration, she still embraces her scandal-ridden Civil Affairs Secretary Woo Byung-woo.

The public has begun to doubt her credo of “principles and trust.” Park must fire Secretary Woo. She must become a president of the people, not the pro-Park group. Only then can she weather daunting economic and security challenges facing the Korean Peninsula.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 15, Page 30
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