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President Roh’s Interview with Chief Editors

Posted August. 24, 2005 03:00,   


“Some members of the press still do not accept me as President,” said President Roh Moo-hyun as he mentioned his relationship with the media. “The most difficult part in performing state affairs so far has been that my opinions have not been delivered correctly to the public.”

He commented in particular that “some major press members and I have not been on friendly terms ever since I entered politics. My election as president was in itself unacceptable for them, and some still find it hard to accept. As a result, my ideas tend not to be conveyed to the people in a straightforward manner.”

About the regional press, Roh also said that “because of regional interests, the central government’s policies are often looked at with prejudice.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that “in some aspects, we are to blame for this. With the launching of the Participatory Government, we took a rather strong stance to correct the politics-media relationship. This led to significant conflicts with the press in the beginning stages.”

Then by declaring that he will “take these aims into consideration when selecting the new Chief of Staff,” he explained the reasons behind appointing Lee Byung-wan, the current senior presidential secretary for public affairs, to the new post. Lee had formerly worked in the press.

“I have suffered disadvantages because of the manner of my speech,” said Roh. In assessing his first half-term, he regretted that he “was unable to bring a vibrant economy to the people,” but at the same time, evaluated himself as wanting to be “proud of the fact that I have made no serious mistakes in my work.”

About the slow economic recovery, the President argued that “the government has dealt with the primary task of overcoming the crisis in a very effective way. We have done our best to revitalize the economy, but we cannot resort to shortcuts. It needs time.”

He continued, “I have done fairly well but public support is not strong. Frankly speaking, I am both rather disappointed with the low popularity ratings, and feel I am being unfairly judged. I myself am partly responsible for this, as I have not expressed myself very successfully, and have consequently suffered some damage to my image. I regret this as it seems to have reflected negatively upon my administrative work.”

“We need a bicameral system,” he said. When faced with the question of whether he envisaged a bicameral parliamentary system to enhance regional representation in order to ease inter-regional tensions, Roh replied, “We do need one. We must establish a political structure where regional interests and values are truly reflected.”

The President stated, “According to the parity of vote principle, which lays out the one-voter-one-vote rule, we have now arrived at a 3-1 ratio of voters electing one assemblyman from the cities and the provinces, but the Constitutional Court still asks us to reduce the ratio to 2.5-1 or even 2-1.” He pointed out that “in such a case, after a decade, lawmakers from Seoul who graduated from Seoul high schools or who are from the Seoul metropolitan area will completely take control of the National Assembly. Then they will be too afraid to even present a bill that is unpalatable to the metropolitan area.”

He added that “it would create an extremely dangerous situation of distorting Korea’s key decision-making structure. A unilateral way of thinking would control the National Assembly.” He also repeatedly asked that “if this is wrongly mentioned, it would seem as if I asserted the need for a constitutional revision to allow a bicameral system. I am only concerned in my private opinion. I will just say in theory that creating a rational Senate could also be a good idea. Please don’t let this lead to any debate over a constitutional amendment.”

“I will focus on integration in the second half of my term,” President Roh said as he laid out the priorities for state tasks for the second half of his term. “My main election pledges were reform and integration. People are tired of the word ‘reform,’ but it has still achieved much success. I will also accomplish inter-regional integration by overcoming regional divisions.”

“Regional tensions have been eased somewhat, but regional divisions remain. A political coalition is an alternative that can structurally bridge the divided regions,” said the President, emphasizing that “although it can be rather difficult and misinterpreted as a political ploy, I will concentrate on this task in the second half of my term.”

He also added that “if the opposition does not like this suggestion, I am willing to fully participate in any other possible type of negotiations between the government and opposition parties.”

Jung-Hun Kim jnghn@donga.com