Yoon’s doorstep presidency

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Yoon’s doorstep presidency

Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Yoon Suk-yeol must make the best of the 22-month election-less period before the 2024 parliamentary elections. He will have sleepless nights if he fails to exercise leadership and address the economic and security challenges during this time. The president could face more brutal judgment than former president Kim Young-sam, whose term ended with a national default crisis.

Fortunately, President Yoon is a realist. When meeting reporters for a doorstep interview before heading to his office, he asked whether they had readied many questions to ask, as he was “ready to answer any.” His behavior contrasts with former presidents with the highhandedness and aloofness incongruous to democratic principles.

He has so far had 13 doorstep interviews. Questions that were limited to two in the beginning increased up to eight. He presided over his first meeting with senior secretaries without relying on a prepared script. As the conservative president pours out questions during small meetings with his secretaries, they — and the public — have come to know the president’s thoughts better.

Cabinet members under former conservative president Park Geun-hye had to surmise her thoughts and intentions as she kept herself secluded in the heavily guarded presidential palace and gave orders in an obscure way. Since they could not meet or talk with her directly, they had to push policies guided by instinct and assumptions. Sometimes, they got a phone call from the president who made critical comments or complaints over their actions. Ministers who misread her intentions were shunned from then on, leaving the government offices under “lame” ministers. Such a fiasco must not take place under the new Yoon administration.

King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty would make the best role model for President Yoon, as he faces a myriad of challenges now. Throughout the great king’s reign from 1418 to 1450, Joseon was constantly under danger of invasion from Japanese pirates and the Jurchens in Manchuria. The royal history book records “how people had been killed and taken as prisoners by invaders by ground and sea.”

The Joseon court had to suffer constant meddling by Chinese envoys. “Good harvest yields were rare due to drought or flood. Food stocks were nearly empty, leaving little to help for the people. Starving people in the northern region had to make cakes and porridge out of soil,” according to history records.
President Yoon Suk-yeol answers questions from reporters on his way to work at the office Monday. [NEWS1]

Hwang Hee who later became prime minister for King Sejong was shocked upon hearing the complaints from people while he had been in exile in Namwon in 1442. He had believed the monarchy was stable, but people talked about how the Joseon in its 30th year after its founding could be doomed as the Later Baekjae Dynasty fell just 35 years after its founding in 900.

But Sejong tackled all the challenges through communication and sincere love for the people. During a court assembly, he urged the members to speak their minds as he had not heard “any straight talk or comments opposing the consensus.”

Such a wise monarch set the stage for Joseon to last 518 years compared to the average of 300 years for Chinese dynasties.

We cannot cross the “river of crisis” without pain. The agony would be harder on the socially weak. President Yoon must unite the people to usher them across the river. He must visit the vulnerable to comfort and save them. The first lady also must visit the sad and pitiful homes of the weak.

The new conservative president must propose a ceasefire to the opposition. The ruling front must lay down its arms first. The president must meet and communicate with the opposition and yield to draw their cooperation, if necessary. Yoon must adjust his appointments for top government positions by paying heed to the criticism about the over-concentration of prosecutors in key posts. His comment that he would stick with recruitment from the prosecution if necessary will only stoke conflict.

Politics is performed through the execution of power. Power is a type of violence to force others to comply with the wishes of the leadership. Politicians cannot be pardoned if they commit wrongs due to such mighty influence. But if the power is used for public needs, the results could be different.

Power can fizzle out just like the evanescent rainbow that briefly appeared over the skies during Yoon’s inauguration ceremony. So far, the new president has demonstrated a determination to get closer to the people. He must not lose humility and warmth throughout his term to become a successful president.
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