Failure of leadershipLeadership shines at times of crisis. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explicitly shows it. In a nationally televised statement to his people on Monday, he said the country’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines will arrive by the end of December and that all people will be vaccinated within the third quarter of next year if everything goes smoothly. His announcement was the first of its kind in Asia about a government’s vaccination plan with Pfizer and BioNTech.
Lee’s discourse with the people was an exemplary case of a leader trying to cope with an imminent crisis and communicating with the public effectively. Lee explained his administration’s efforts to obtain vaccines and plans to distribute them in a precise and transparent manner. While recommending a vaccine shot, he said it’s not obligatory. After two cases with unknown transmission routes appeared in February, he assuaged public anxieties by confessing difficulties in controlling the spread and asked Singaporeans to join the government’s strategy to battle the virus. Lee sincerely accepted medical experts’ advice to secure vaccines and achieved successful results.
President Moon Jae-in took a very different path. On Sunday, a day before the Singaporean prime minister’s speech, the Korean president presided over an emergency meeting, but did not mention anything about how to acquire vaccines except declaring an “emergency” and urging citizens to “keep social distancing.”
“Social distancing is the strongest vaccine and cure for the pandemic,” he stressed.
The tougher the times, the more frankly a president should communicate with the people. But he skipped all such conversations with the public. Even in a meeting with the National Science and Technology Advisory Committee on Monday, Moon said nothing about how his administration’s vaccine acquisition program failed.
A couple of days ago, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun appeared on television and admitted the government’s mistake of not rushing to secure vaccines. And yet Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, ferociously attacked Korea’s conservative media for producing “articles resembling those from Japan’s far right media.” We are dumbfounded at his weird logic.
After daily cases exceeded 1,000 for five days in a row, the government banned private gathering of more than four in greater Seoul. Despite a dramatic surge in infections and deaths, hospital beds are in short supply. Moon must roll up his sleeves to get vaccines for the people. He must listen to opponents’ voices. He must demonstrate presidential leadership before it’s too late.