Look in the mirrorPresident Moon Jae-in’s New Year’s press conference only deepened lingering questions about how he would run the government in the final phase of his five-year presidency. Despite an unprecedented mix of real and virtual attendance, it was just a repeat of nonessential — and short — questions followed by some very long answers by the president. Despite the Blue House’s pledge to offer an “unscripted press conference,” he could not demonstrate presidential leadership of hope.
Asked about the ongoing real estate crisis and possible special pardons for the two former conservative presidents behind bars, Moon said his administration will come up with “emergency measures” to calm the overheated real estate market and that “now is not the right time to talk about special pardons.” Unless he makes clear his position on the issue now, it will certainly fuel political and social conflict ahead of the presidential election next year. Yet, he fell short of clarifying the issue.
While the liberal administration has hammered out 24 sets of real estate measures, Moon reiterated his bland assurances that the next set might actually work. In the meantime, policymakers attributed the problem to the previous administrations. On Monday, the president nonchalantly blamed a “rapid increase in the number of households,” praising his administration for “supplying more housing than the former administrations.” How can we expect his government to devise effective solutions to address soaring apartment prices if it does not admit its own mistakes? Asked about the war between outgoing Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, he simply brushed it off as a normal “process of advancing toward a healthier democracy.” That’s sheer sophistry.
Moon could do better in the press conference before he steps down in May next year. Given heated primaries expected until the next presidential election and his plunging approval ratings, he should have used Monday’s conference to get the public behind him. To do that, he would have to reflect on his past performance. When questioned about his lack of communication with opposition parties, he said, “A press conference is not the only venue to communicate.” But we wonder how much effort he really made to communicate with the opposition.
A press conference is not a place for flowery rhetoric or self-praise. Korea faces daunting challenges. We hope the president demonstrates creative leadership as promised in his inaugural speech in May 2017. Self-reflection should be the starting point.