A president the people want
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
South Korea has elected its 20th president, who will be responsible for governing the country for five years from May 10. The winner wasn’t known by press time. But he or she will be the eighth president directly voted into power since the constitutional amendment that ended military regimes took effect in 1987. But the public is hardly in a cheering mood. They are well aware of the limits of the presidential system and the changes that come every five years.
The new president, who will most likely be a man, must end the cycle of instability and confusion. Before tending to urgent economic and security affairs, the president must keep to 10 commitments.
First, the new Korean leader must stop drawing lines. He must abandon the black-and-white ideological spectrum of conservative or liberal. He must become a leader for all, not just for those who voted for him.
Second, he must be all-engaging in recruiting aides and officials. With a broadened perspective, the president needs to select people from a wider human resources pool. Including straight-talking devil’s advocates would be a good way to diversify opinions. He must not restrict himself to election campaign supporters or people with the same ideology. This president could make a huge difference if he abandons longstanding traditions in appointments.
Third, the president must go beyond party lines. He must not hand out titles as rewards for contributions to his campaign or loyalty. Appointees are supposed to serve the people, not themselves. He must keep the so-called “polifessors” — politically motivated professors — at bay. He also should leave civic organizations alone so that NGOs can keep to their original role of keeping watch on the government. That would be good for the country as well as the NGOs.
Fourth, the president must communicate with the people. Like the prime ministers of the UK and Japan, he must converse with the people on every issue that may concern them. Daily briefings can be effective as televised speeches can be too stilted.
Fifth, the president must use taxes very carefully. The national coffers are not a limitless pump. National liabilities have snowballed. When budgeting, the cost to future generations must be explained. As much as 300 trillion won ($243 billion) could be needed to fulfill all the campaign promises, not to mention separate spending promises made during regional tours. He must reexamine campaign promises and public finances before he starts office.
Teachers wearing traditional dress in a private village school in Nonsan city, South Chungcheong, take a selfie after casting ballots at a polling booth in an elementary school Wednesday. [KIM SUNG-TAE]
Sixth, the president must filter out unviable campaign promises. Sticking to vain promises can backfire. Steep increases in the minimum wage, upgrading of contract workers to permanent jobs in the public sector, cooling off of real estate prices, and a declaration to end the Korean War — promises by Moon Jae-in — all ended up backfiring. Innocent victims must not be made. People must not be stripped of the hope of owning a home.
Seventh, the Blue House needs streamlining. Its administrative ability will be wasted if government employees merely wait for orders from the Blue House. Bureaucrats must be able to work with conviction. The administration becomes useless if the Blue House has a say in everything. Although it would be impossible to desert the Blue House, its outsized role must be trimmed.
Eighth, the prime minister and the ministers of the cabinet must have authority in their roles. The president must let his Cabinet do their jobs — and give them credit for achievements.
Ninth, the new leader must never attempt political retaliation. This part of the country’s tragic political history must stop repeating itself.
Tenth, he must not try to be almighty. A leader cannot win true support from the public that way. The new president can get off to a good start by departing from tribal politics.
If these imperatives are kept, the president can become the first Korean leader retiring with applause from the broad population. Not being an imperial president could be a winning strategy for the individual as well as the people and the country. We pray for a new type of leadership beyond region, gender, and age.