Arrogant and self-centered
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
After a tragic accident involving a tourist boat carrying Koreans on the Danube in Hungary, President Moon Jae-in immediately issued a written statement specifically ordering the government to be on “full alert” to assist any rescue operations in Hungary after dispatching a rescue team to Budapest. The Blue House highlighted his fast reaction and communication with the public to draw a sharp contrast with former president Park Geun-hye, who remained out of sight for hours after the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2016.
The obstreperous National Assembly and recalcitrant opposition became the Blue House’s next focus of attention. It drummed up a public campaign to institutionalize recalls of elected officials to enable citizens to remove and replace lawmakers before the end of their term through a snap election. The presidential office was more vocal on the public petition on the Blue House webpage, which demanded a recall of the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) as well as the ruling Democratic Party (DP). The Blue House added a comment: “Voters must be so frustrated that they cannot wait for the general election in April next year.”
Many would agree that Korea’s National Assembly has always been the worst. It needs fixes one way or another. A public confidence poll by Statistics Korea showed the legislature only scored around one mark out of four. All other public institutions got at least two points. The Assembly has always been unpopular among the people, although they elect its members.
Koreas elect the president as well as their legislative representatives. Like any elected officials, the president has the right to criticize the legislature as much as its representatives do the president. That’s called checks and balances. The Blue House may have its reasons for its outburst given the opposition party’s opposition for opposition’s sake.
But everyone knows that such hostile comments by Moon and his aides are targeting the LKP. They are more or less asking voters to deliver their judgment on the opposition in the next election. They borrow the term “public wishes” to bombard the opposition. They take pleasure in the surge of “likes” and favorable poll results. But polls and the number of “likes” are fluid.
Questions on surveys are sometimes tailored to draw response favorable to the government. But “public wishes” are exploited too often. As it turns out, public opinion is rarely mentioned when the public shows negative responses to government policies like the phasing out of nuclear power, minimum wage hikes or removal of dams constructed by the Lee Myung-bak administration. “Public wishes” are invoked only when they serve the government purpose.
Xun Zi — a famous philosopher from the Warring States period in ancient China — likened the emperor to a boat and people the water. “Water can float a boat, but also can capsize it,” he said. There is also a petition on the Blue House homepage calling for the impeachment of President Moon. It drew 250,000 “likes.” The Blue House has to respond to any petition with over 200,000 clicks. It would hardly make the same comment to those who are increasingly frustrated to wait for the next presidential election.
A president in a democracy is a political leader who should cooperate with the legislature as well as opposition parties for the sake of governance. No state policies are possible if they do not have approval from the National Assembly. President Moon must work to persuade the legislature. Making enemies of the opposition would mean that the president can only go his way — and possibly alone.
Politicians are often abhorred because their actions do not match their words. But the presidential office also has not been any different. The legislature and the Blue House score most poorly for public confidence when polls are taken. Rigidity, arrogance and self-righteousness are the reasons they lose the public’s favor. Moon promised to be different. But is he?